TAMPA, Fla. — As the omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread, many employers are putting safety restrictions back in place that have been relaxed over the past few months. Many are reinforcing vaccine requirements, reinstituting mask policies and creating incentives for following health and safety precautions.
This pattern of creating safety guidelines, rolling them back as cases dropped and vaccines were made available and then putting them back in place while delta and omicron surged is forcing some employers to find a more permanent solution.
Some businesses have created vaccination or testing requirements. Others are using this opportunity and uncertainty to change how they do business forever.
Dr. Anthony Harris is the associate medical director at WorkCare and helps companies develop safety plans in regard to COVID-19.
"Recent surveys predict that at least a quarter, if not up to 40 percent, of the workforce will never go back into the workplace. They'll be remote workers and with some of the large employers we counsel, that's exactly it. We worked with a large healthcare agency and they're just going fully remote where before just 10 to 15 percent of their employees were working that way before the pandemic," he explained.
Dr. Harris says for many companies changing safety guidelines as COVID-19 evolves has been a genuine challenge.
Creating guidelines for vaccination or testing that meet legal benchmarks while pleasing their employees for in-person work is even harder, so some find it easier just to take the virtual approach.
Some of the biggest companies that have decided to go online permanently are Twitter, DropBox and Zillow. Other companies have created a hybrid model, allowing some to work in-person while others stay at home and some do both. Ford and Google are among the many.
"We're going to see dramatic shifts continue to be a prominent feature of the workforce moving forward," said Dr. Harris. He says many of these changes were brought on because of COVID-19 but will continue because of how people have decided they prefer to work and even data that says productivity has increased.
As many search for jobs at the beginning of this new year, Harris says this time is a true opportunity for workers to find companies with work styles and values that match their own.