Delta Variant and the Return to Abnormal

The global pandemic has brought leaders one of the biggest challenges of our generation. Just as we thought we had figured out our remote working routines, and as some companies started going back to their offices, the Delta variant changed the equation and the number of cases resurged.  

Communicators are finding themselves in uncharted waters once again, trying to figure out:

  • How and when to bring employees back
  • Creating a safe environment  
  • Policy changes, how best to disseminate them and honoring each other’s choices
  • And finally, the impact of all of these changes to our corporate culture

We dug into this subject during a recent Page Conversation on The Delta Variant & Your Return to Work Plan.  I was joined by J.J. Davis of Dell, Jeff Sturchio of Rabin Martin and Stacey Tank of Heineken.

Some key takeaways include:

  1. Having choice, as an employee, is an incredible value proposition that can be built into the culture. To be able to work to live, not the other way around is  becoming a selling point for recruiters.
  2. Supporting an employee during the pandemic has required individualized decisions and will forge much deeper connections and stronger culture. 
  3. This crisis will produce better leaders. The future has always been uncertain, but COVID-19 has shown us that nobody can control the future, just how they respond to it.
  4. Trust is assumed, not earned. Don’t believe that you need butts in seats to make sure your employees are productive.
  5. In order to encourage employees to learn more about the vaccine and other safety measures, it is important to create a safe platform, where dialogue can stay productive and eliminate an “us” vs “them” culture.

Hybrid vs. flexibility

Some companies have decided that no one will be forced to come back to the office by a certain date. Managers are working with their employees to create a hybrid plan that is appropriate for their employees. The key aspect of hybrid is flexibility – it loses its value when employees are forced to enter the office a set number of days per week.

Other companies are seeing their leaders still struggle with offering their employees flexibility. This leads to lost talent, and it’s important to allow these leaders to see the numbers for themselves or hear the feedback directly.  Communications can help provide access to this feedback. 

Strengthening corporate culture 

Having a choice in your work style is an incredible value proposition, and that it can be built into the culture. Being able to have a life, to be able to work to live, not the other way around, is enviable and is a contributor to a strong corporate culture.

While creating hybrid workplace cultures, organizations must make conscious efforts to keep the environments equitable; one company, for example, has decided that if not everyone can be in the room, the meeting is over zoom. This keeps the company from splitting into “in-person vs. on video” camps. With so many of us spending our days on Zoom, companies are seeing a large number of their employees experiencing “Zoom fatigue”. Companies are creating “No Video Fridays” in order to help employees deal with this phenomenon. It’s important to understand which meetings don’t need to be face to face – building this into the culture will go a long way to keep employees motivated.  

Mandating the vaccine 

Rather than simply forcing employees to get vaccinated, the panelists shared that we need to do more listening to find out why people are reluctant to get vaccinated. The fight against the pandemic is still about numbers; by asking the question “what is motivating the unvaccinated to avoid vaccination”, we can increase the number of vaccinated individuals and maximize the overall effectiveness of the vaccine. Similarly, rather than outright mandating a vaccine, other companies have investigated alternatives to encouraging vaccination. One new method is to increase insurance premiums for the unvaccinated, as they now carry a bigger health risk than their vaccinated counterparts.

The companies that have been successful during the pandemic have done so by putting their employees safety first. Employees returning to the office want certainty in an uncertain situation. The best thing leaders can do for our employees is to optimize public health countermeasures, make plans based on best estimates and lead with authenticity and empathy.  

Umayma Abubakar is Head of Internal Corporate Relations at Mubadala Investment Company.