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What is Next for Return to the Office Policies?

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Paul Korzeniowski's picture
B2B Content producer, Self-employed

Paul is a seasoned (basically old) freelance B2B content producer. Through the years, he has written more than 10,000 items (blogs, news stories, white papers, case studies, press releases and...

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  • Feb 4, 2022

On again, off again, on again? The pandemic has waxed and waned in a manner that has made executive planning quite difficult. Therefore, the answer to when utilities will open their offices up fully and expect employees to fill them remains fluid.

The pandemic forced energy companies to quickly operate in new ways. Social distancing rules forced them to adopt remote work. In addition, customer interactions rapidly evolved from face-to-face to virtual.

For close to two years now, utility management has taken erasers to business plans in order to craft policies that meshed with employee safety, corporate needs, and the current health prognosis. This area remains in flux.

Return to the Office?

After a year in various forms of isolation, an increase in the number of vaccines and falling Covid case numbers prompted some executives to start planning for a return to the office, first in the fall and later as 2021 ended. But such plans have been delayed by spikes in the number of cases, first from the Delta variant and recently from the Omnicron strain.  As evidence, a mid-December 2021 Gartner survey found 44% of companies had pushed back or altered their reopening plans. 

As the new year began, there does seem to be growing movement, at least by government officials, to remove the various pandemic restrictions. In fact at the end of January, Denmark decided to return to normal, abandoning all of its Covid restrictions. The announcement ironically came even though the country reported its highest number of Covid cases ever. While case numbers remain high and stopping the spread has not been accomplished, the number of deaths remains significant less than at the pandemic’s worse moments.

A New Plan

Given the mixed messaging and changing landscape, energy companies may decide to put new policies in place.  So how should they proceed? Gartner recommended that they be realistic. The pandemic increased employees’ stress levels significantly and high levels of uncertainty remain because of the virus mutations. Executives need to communicate in an authentic and transparent way with their workforce. Be honest about the fact that the landscape is difficult to navigate, no one has clear cut answers, and plans can change quickly again.

They also need to be flexible. The pandemic forced companies to adopt remote, virtual interactions. They may plan for a return to the office but still should have strategies in place that allow for a quick change to remote work, if health care conditions again warrant it.

Finally, they must keep their employees’ health and their concerns at the center of their decisions. Executives may want to poll them and get an understanding of how comfortable or uncomfortable workers feel about returning to the office. Energy companies have to adopt flexible policies that do not force them out of their comfort zone. Employees will not be productive – and may even leave the company – if forced to do something that they do not embrace.

In sum, uncertainty remains because the health care landscape has changed dramatically and erratically from the start of the virus. A return to pre-pandemic operations is what everyone desires, but the journey has been much more tenuous than initially anticipate. Consequently, utility management needs to be flexible as they move their company forward in these uncertain times.

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Feb 11, 2022

Paul, great post as always - do you think we will ever entirely go back to 'the good old days"?.  I think some will want the flexibility to continue to work from home or remotely if their jobs allow.  Perhaps not even in the same states.  This could also change the recruitment landscape, and perhaps companies no longer need to recruit where their home bases are if they now have systems in place to handle a remote workforce.  Curious what you are seeing specifically in the power industry.  Are most of the utilities following suit with other industries? 

Paul Korzeniowski's picture
Paul Korzeniowski on Feb 21, 2022

No, I do not think it will ever be like the old days. The reality is that companies, like people, resist change, especially something as dramatic as working remotely rather than at home. So, only a pandemic would change the workplace so dramatically.

Now that the change has occurred, most employees see the potential benefits, especially those with families. They like the new arrangement. A significant number say they will quit if forced back to the office. So if an energy company wants to keep them, then they will have to offer some level of  workplace flexibility, probably not as much as they had when everything was shut down but more than what they had pre-pandemic. 

Paul Korzeniowski's picture
Thank Paul for the Post!
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