As the world begins easing shelter in place restrictions and businesses start trying to figure out how to bring people back to work, one thing is clear: things have changed and likely will never fully go back to how they were before. But this doesn’t need to be a bad thing. 

The shift to remote work was already a trend before the current crisis and as we start transitioning back to work, business leaders have the opportunity to adopt a more flexible and agile model. Bucking this trend risks damaging company credibility and undermining employee morale, so staying empathetic as you bring your people back to work is essential. 

Hibob recently polled 2000 individual contributors and middle/senior managers across the United States with questions designed to help HR leaders better understand how team members are managing during the crisis and how they feel about coming back to work. These results can inform policies that promote productivity but remain empathetic to the diverse and unprecedented concerns of employees and managers.

When should parents go back to work?

While the CDC recommends that businesses keep people working from home for as long as possible, many organizations are beginning to open their doors and separate the desks in keeping with social distancing requirements. But no matter how prepared a workplace is, successful reopening relies on an effective back to work strategy that considers staff needs first. 

One demographic that has been in the spotlight throughout this crisis is parents of young children working from home. Adjusting to homeschooling while staying productive and baking endless amounts of cookies has become the new normal for many families. With most states keeping schools closed for the foreseeable future, the new normal is quickly becoming old hat. So how will parents be able to go back to work without childcare? HR leaders and managers will need to consider each situation on its own merit; blanket policies just won’t cover everyone. 

In our survey, one of the most striking insights was the lack of difference between parents and people who are not parents. When asked if they are able to do their job at home and whether they prefer to continue working from home, 53% of workers without children and 55% of parents responded positively. Most people are just not ready to come back to work just yet, regardless of having kids at home. 

Organizations and HR leaders can support employees that are parents by equipping managers to respond to each employee’s situation with empathy and flexibility. There is no definitive answer about who should go back to work first, but for parents without childcare solutions, leaving home is not a viable option. When strategizing which employees to bring back to work first, remaining empathetic to this logistical disaster might mean letting parents stay home even if they are categorized as essential. Let your team members call the shots if they are really needed. This will signal your organization’s values and foster employee trust and confidence long after the current crisis is resolved.

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Is there a COVID-19 gender gap?

Working fully remote can be lonely and isolating. Although many US employees were already working remotely some of the time before COVID-19, for employees that were used to leaving the house, these last months have been trying. 

We asked our respondents about whether they feel working from home is working for them and then looked at whether these responses were different for women and men. The results? Almost no difference at all. Both men and women think that the best part about getting back to work will be returning to a routine. With 41% of women and 42% of men choosing this option over socializing with colleagues or working face-to-face, it’s clear that all workers are waiting for a little normalcy. 

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However, normalcy is probably a long way off. Drawing on this data, it’s clear that employees are seeking a regular work routine. Help your people by improving WFH policies and work with managers to create structured schedules, both for people at home and those coming back to work. Communication is essential for determining what an employee’s availability and work capacity is, so before setting a schedule give employees an opportunity to weigh in. 

Men’s and women’s preferences with regard to working from home were different, with men preferring to work from the office at a higher number than women. For both genders, close to 40% of respondents think the best part of their job is the actual work that they do. Most employees agree that they are able to remain productive and do their work at home, so consider keeping people remote for as long as possible.

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Willingness to come to work should be a determining factor in any back to work HR strategy. There isn’t a significant gender gap in our survey insights, nor is there much difference between parents and people without children. What does matter is each employee’s individual circumstances. Every effort should be made to accommodate employees who prefer not to come back to work just yet. Whether for lack of childcare or fear of getting sick, listening to your people, and taking their needs seriously will enhance employee engagement and talent retention without damaging productivity.

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From Shayna Hodkin

Shayna lives in south Tel Aviv with two dogs and a lot of plants. She writes poems and reads tarot.