Trends show fewer people are working remotely, but the largest employers are still deciding whether returning to the office will be required in 2022.
Now they’re making that decision in the face of the delta and omicron variants – and whatever anyone might be planning today, it could be an entirely different situation by March.
Heading into the holidays, things were trending toward returning to the office. Only one in three people who were working remotely in May 2020 were still doing so by November, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The question is whether that trend will continue.
The job market has been extremely hot, and looks like it will continue into 2022. The rationale is based upon the fact that the employment rate is almost back to where it was before the outbreak, and there are now over ten million jobs currently available. Businesses can’t find enough workers to satiate demand. It’s so difficult, that they are offering sign-on bonuses, higher pay, free tuition and other benefits to attract, recruit and retain workers.
The pandemic showed that it wasn’t really necessary to schlep into the office, wasting almost three hours a day, and losing quality time with family that you can never get back.
In addition to Covid-19, we had the Delta variant and now Omicron. Businesses have scraped their return to work plans. It’s reasonable that workers will refuse to go into crowded cities such as New York or San Francisco, but what about the rest of the world? Studies showed that people said they’d quit their jobs if forced to stop working from home. With Omicron, it is almost certain that the first half of 2022 will be mostly, if not all remote.
It feels that this is going to be a never ending pandemic. There are brief glimpses of hope that it’s over, then suddenly a new variant surges. The back-and-forth is not fair to workers and their families. They’re pressured to prepare and then rearrange childcare and other commitments. People are not able to make long term plans if they don’t know if they’ll be told to come into an office or not.
Both workers and companies will come to the conclusion that returning to an office will not happen for at least the first half of 2022. In places like New York—which was the original epicenter in the U.S. of Covid-19—is now closing Broadway shows and other events. It’s too risky for companies to make people take mass transit, walk on crowded streets and have to be careful keeping socially distant in the office. It’s too much to handle, as everyone’s already frazzled. For the foreseeable future the majority of people, especially those working in big cities, will be sent home to work.
Businesses advertise their goods and services to obtain customers. In a tight job market, with no end in sight, employers will need to brand themselves as a great place to work, too. Brand recognition will rise to a top priority for companies in 2022. Businesses will need to effectively communicate benefits, perks, and most importantly, culture to attract talent and stay viable.
HR teams need to prioritize employer brand initiatives—or even define and hire for a head of employer brand role—to convey their culture, values and vision. And this effort shouldn’t end at the exit interview. Company brand and culture should extend further to ensure employees are ambassadors for life.