May 12, 2021

Returning to Work after COVID Pandemic: A Strategic Framework

Robert J. McNeillJoshua HaimsBy Robert J. McNeill Jr., CPA, and Joshua Haims

As more individuals become vaccinated against COVID-19, questions around return to work could become a more pressing issue for employers. At its core, the logistical planning can be framed by questions related to space utilization, testing and tracing, and the tools and techniques that facilitate safer interactions.

Running alongside these matters are deeper issues involving strategy, workplace culture, and human fulfillment, which could ultimately define how well public and private companies in Pennsylvania survive and thrive in the months and years ahead.

Social Distancing at WorkHow should businesses think about these more intangible concerns? Do you have a plan? Have you even thought about them yet? Deloitte’s recently released Global Human Capital Survey provides four key takeaways from the pandemic’s disruption that leaders should consider as a framework for forging a return-to-work strategy with long-term implications.

Prepare for Disruption

Before the onset of the pandemic, most executives didn’t think too deeply about worldwide disruptions in terms of their impact on their company’s day-to-day operations. Now that many companies have regained their footing, executives should create work environments that have the means to absorb and respond to future shocks to the economy and society.

This means considering more human-centric measures to help employees better respond to a disruption. Work environments that allow employees to adapt, reskill, and assume new roles during times of sudden change will ensure the continued success of those employees and the overall business. Many executives recognize this is a necessity, but the Deloitte study shows that a smaller percentage deem themselves ready to put this into practice.

Similarly, while more than 90% of companies now have a remote work policy, more than half of those policies are temporary. This signals that many organizations may have more of a patch in place rather than a plan for leveraging remote work in a sustainable manner. Despite the real estate savings often cited with remote work, this mode is not without a unique set of risks. Balancing the risks with the rewards for long-term success should be an immediate priority.

C-Suite Executives Should Collaborate on Work Reimagination

The pandemic impacted all employees and departments in different ways. With this in mind, executives and managers shouldn’t leave the job of reimagining a post-pandemic work environment solely to human resources. They should join in the development of a plan that brings the best out of all employees companywide.

This is not to say human resources shouldn’t play a large role in reimagining work; in fact, the chief human resources officer would make a sensible leader for the team. But all C-suite executives should contribute perspectives and ideas based on what they’ve been seeing in their channels. This way, an approach is developed that works for different kinds of workers as well as the company’s customers and other stakeholders.

Of course, a wholly collaborative effort is easier said than done. Many short-term factors continue to take priority for executives, hindering readiness and future visioning. However, as the Global Human Capital Survey has shown, leadership is the top factor that drives change. A simple first step such as assembling a connected leadership team, a “symphonic” c-suite, will go a long way.

Humans and Technology in Harmony

Before the pandemic, there were fears that artificial intelligence would replace human workers due to the technology’s growing abilities. The pandemic, however, has helped some businesses see that the more humans and technology work together, the more employees will thrive in a work environment that’s adaptable to disruption. Executives shouldn’t view human workers and technological processes as binary choices, but rather as a partnership.

The Deloitte survey shows that executives see new technologies as a top factor in transforming work, but they also see organizational culture and human capability as equally important. When companies enhance all of these areas, they create a future-proof environment that both values employees and optimizes productivity.

Build in Wellness

Many of those who work from home are in the same environment in which they congregate with family and engage in a range of self-care routines. Recognizing this, business leaders are increasingly creating policies that allow employees to build wellness and self-care into their work schedules.

A disconnect remains, however, with how leaders view well-being and how their employees do so. For example, while executives agree that well-being is important, it is lower on their list of priorities; employees, on the other hand, value it as key to their productivity. If executives recognize that a human-centric approach to work reimagination includes policies that promote wellness, they will create an environment in which all parties thrive, including the business.

Focusing on this four-pronged framework can help Pennsylvania companies ensure long-term resiliency as employees return to work in a manner that is safe and practical. The United States has an economic heritage rooted in toughness and hard work, but it is also one of new ideas and innovation. Let’s put the two together in creating a return-to-work strategy that is effective, long-lasting, and human.

Robert J. McNeill Jr., CPA, is the managing partner for Deloitte in Greater Philadelphia. He can be reached at rmcneill@deloitte.com.

Joshua Haims is the principal for Deloitte’s human capital practice in Philadelphia. He can be reached at jhaims@deloitte.com.

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Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.