All companies are facing hurdles trying to reopen. How will tech companies bring back their employees after the COVID-19 shutdown? Carefully if at all.

All over the world, businesses are preparing to reopen. As of now, all efforts are gradual. There is no set “go back to the office” day. Still, many companies are already in a hurry to get employees back and some are taking extra precautions. Many tech companies are wondering if employees should come back at all.

The Childcare Hurdle

One major limitation or hurdle all companies will face is childcare. Parents cannot go back to work if schools and daycares are not open or if they fear for their child’s safety. Many educational facilities have already canceled the remaining school year. Canceling next year is also a discussion that is on the table. With all schools making independent decisions on reopening, it is nearly impossible to have a coordinated effort in the near term that is not on a case-by-case, employee-by-employee basis. On top of that, new strands of the virus are having a devastating effect on children who were otherwise low risk. That fear of contraction may cause parents to act more conservatively.

Fear of the Unknown

Another hurdle that remains top of mind is the lack of testing. Without ample testing, we do not know who is infected, who’s immune, and how great the risks actually are. The fear of the unknown is typically the worst kind. It buckles our decision-making process.

Costs and Liability

Even though companies have relatively low legal risk, they do have to consider all the costs. Employers have a duty under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to make sure they provide a safe workplace. What does that really look like? Will employers need to redesign an office, purchase new plexiglass guards for each cubical? Also, in a worst-case scenario, what is the operational cost if a few employees get sick and go on leave? Another consideration is reputation. If companies are quick to bring people back and end up facing infection, what will that do to their reputation? Moral and public opinion will suffer. Considering all these scenarios is one of the reasons tech companies may decide not to bring employees into the office at all.

Working from Home May Be The New Normal for Many Tech Company Employees

There is no question about it. In general tech companies were more prepared to send employees home when the crisis hit. The infrastructure was already in place and the nature of the work means it’s a fairly easy transition. On top of that, studies have shown in many instances that the productively of remote workers in the tech industry went up when compared to onsite workers. So, why should tech companies face all the hurdles and try to bring people back? Well they probably won’t. Working from home will most likely be the new normal for many big tech company employees.

Microsoft is giving employees the option to work remotely through October. Amazon has issued similar guidance. Zillow told its employees that they can work from home until at least the end of 2020.

Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, said the coronavirus crisis will be a “tipping point” for work from home programs. She expects that 25-to-30 million U.S. employees will regularly work from home within the next two years — up from 5 million who do so half-time or more now.

“From the employee side, the genie is out of the bottle,” Lister said in a statement last month. “Having tasted the experience, most will not want to give it up.”

The remaining months in 2020 will be difficult, especially as businesses fight to stay alive and navigate through the reopening process. It is very likely that tech companies will decide to slowly bring employees back if at all.

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Marie Zolezzi, CEO and Founder of ZM Ventures has contributed to the HR functions of many large firms in the Silicon Valley, Intermountain West and the Pacific Northwest. Marie is a skilled HR practitioner with unique expertise in HR business partnering, conflict resolution, employee investigations, one-on-one coaching and organization management. She is also a skilled board advisor to the Board of Directors needing input from an HR thought leader. To contact Marie Zolezzi, send an email to info@zmventures.com

 

Sources

Soper, Taylor. “Microsoft Updates WFH Policy, Lets Employees Work Remotely through October.” GeekWire, 6 May 2020, www.geekwire.com/2020/microsoft-updates-wfh-policy-allows-employees-work-remotely-october/.

“How the Biggest Companies in the World Are Preparing to Bring Back Their Workforce.” CNBC, CNBC, 9 Apr. 2020, www.cnbc.com/2020/04/09/how-businesses-are-planning-to-bring-workers-back-after-coronavirus.html.

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