Expert Perspective with Tracey Best: Navigating a Return to Work in the Post-Pandemic ‘New Normal’

After a year-and-a-half of remote operations, many companies are now eyeballing Labor Day to have employees return to the office. But it’ll be far from business as usual. The post-pandemic reality requires that companies approach their business in a new way, especially in order to remain competitive and retain or attract talent in this changing landscape.

“There’s a lot to consider as companies move into the new normal,” said Tracey Best, director of the Employee Benefits Practice Group at C3. “They must now take a fresh look at what has and hasn’t worked over the past year, how to address employee concerns, and what strategies and plans must be put in place so they can continue to thrive.”

While those strategies and plans may look a bit different from company to company, they should include some common considerations, starting with health and safety protocols. Continuing to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing where appropriate, ensuring clean and sanitized work areas, and aligning on how to handle mandated or optional vaccinations should all be top of mind for employers. It’s certainly shaping up to be another roller coaster ride for employers this fall.

“A lot of proposed rules and regulations with regard to mandated vaccinations continue to unfold, and, of course, different states and regions have different requirements for how employers handle it all,” said Best. “The reality is much of it won’t be sorted out until our Federal, state and local governments decide and more and more COVID related mandates and restrictions are put in place this fall.” In the meantime, many companies are adopting a hybrid model: Come to work if you’re vaccinated; if not, wear a mask to protect yourself and others.” Those who want to remain competitive and retain their talent have also instituted continued flexibility on work from home policies where appropriate for their business.

“Employees have spent over a year building their lives around remote work. Now they’re thinking, ‘Is my employer going to force me to come back to the office? Are there other employers that won’t?’” said Best. Of course, the added benefit of remote workers is that the available talent pool significantly opens up, as companies can hire from literally anywhere.

With flexibility of remote work comes a new way of looking at a company’s employee benefit program and how the company brands externally (Indeed, Glassdoor, etc.) aligns with the internal culture. Best notes that as companies begin to recruit from a more national pool of talent and existing employees move to other states to do their remote work, they must also consider taking a fresh look at the types of benefits and services they offer to better align with their new workforce. Does the company have the right technology vendors in place to make the employee and employer experience simple? Is its wellness program available to all employees or are most programs local (such as an on-site gym, on-site clinics). Are the benefits offered accessible on a national scale? Does the company have the resources to help better understand various state mandates and employment laws?

The pandemic also magnified the importance of mental health services and basic medical care provided from the comfort of home via telehealth. Indeed, mental health services are coveted and have taken center stage in wellness benefits today. As such, companies must communicate the availability of resources frequently, underscoring their commitment to supporting their employees.

With changes being made to benefits and policies, it makes sense that companies likewise update their brand and culture to reflect their refreshed perspective.

“Seismic world events require significant changes in so many areas of a business,” summed up Best. She notes that finding an outside partner can enable an organization to draw on a pool of expertise to navigate the uncharted territory. “Such an exercise is too important to trust to just anyone.”

This article was published in conjunction with NU PropertyCasualty360. Written by Susannah Adler with content provided by Tracey Best, Benefits Practice Group Leader at C3.