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CTDO Magazine

Return-to-Office Considerations

Thursday, April 15, 2021

As companies navigate how and when to bring employees back to the workplace, communication and empathy will be key.

In March 2020, most companies that were able to shift operations to remote work did so. In light of COVID-19, it was necessary to keep employees safe and often to abide by state or local mandates.


With vaccine availability and distribution ramping up throughout the world, companies are now wondering whether to have employees return to the office and under what circumstances. They also continue to face numerous challenges.

The Conference Board’s C-Suite Challenge 2021: Leading in a Post-COVID-19 Recovery report cites COVID-19-related disruptions as the greatest internal obstacle for 2021. It also calls out that the pandemic is the one external factor with the highest business impact that is also beyond management’s control that is keeping leaders up at night.

As companies determine who comes back to the office and when, talent development leaders can help their organizations navigate the hurdles, including workplace safety and vaccinations.

Employees’ outlook

For its 2021 report A Workplace Divided: Split Opinions on COVID-19 Vaccine Could Disrupt the Return to Work, the people analytics computer software company Perceptyx surveyed individuals about what would make them feel safe returning to the workplace. Wearing masks, social distancing, and frequent sanitation garnered the highest responses.

As for the COVID-19 vaccines, employees’ feelings on the subject are more complicated. One-quarter said a vaccine requirement would make them feel safe, while 19 percent said that mandatory COVID-19 testing would.

Yet, 53 percent didn’t agree with mandatory vaccines, and 43 percent said they would consider leaving their organization if they were required to get a vaccination.

Enter talent development

This is where talent development leaders come in. Take the time to build mutual accountability and trust, and encourage open dialogue that is conducted with empathy and understanding.

Show compassion. In the article “Returning to the Workplace After COVID-19: What Boards Should Be Thinking About,” PwC notes the importance of strong, trusting relationships between employers and employees. “Management teams should lead with empathy and demonstrate an understanding that while all of their employees have experienced this crisis, they haven’t all experienced it the same way.”

Advocate for employees to come together for the greater good. According to Perceptyx’s data, more than half of respondents said they are likely to get the vaccine if their employer encourages them to, and six out of 10 said they would if the company offers a monetary incentive. “Strong, personal relationships between employees and their managers increase the likelihood of employees getting vaccinated if their employer recommends it,” the report says.


Articulate expectations. A Fast Company article recommends being clear about expectations. “Identify the middle ground of what is desired going forward. Whether asynchronous work will be promoted or communication check-ins will be routinized—or both—what works best for long-term operations and growth can be identified and communicated now.” The article also recommends establishing processes and procedures and training employees for success.

Think broadly. As your organization considers safety, make sure you are taking a broad perspective. Safety doesn’t relate just to individuals who are on payroll—it extends to individuals such as delivery personnel who come into the company’s workspace and may spend an extended time there.

Have two-way conversations. Talk with employees. As the PwC article calls out: “Without employee buy-in, even the best-crafted plans are likely to run into trouble.”

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Patty Gaul is a senior writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

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