Workplace politics: companies nonetheless grappling with house working puzzle | Working from house
As the pandemic hit affluent economies in early 2020, workers (at least in white-collar professions) had to do their jobs from home. Now that vaccination programs are advancing rapidly, more and more companies are concerned with how – and if – the great forced experiment at home work can be ended.
The answer is far from clear. Apple told its worldwide employees on Friday that they would not return to their corporate offices until January at the earliest due to concerns about the spread of new coronavirus variants. The tech company’s original plan to reinstall employees on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in a hybrid home working pattern had already been postponed from early September to October.
Apple is nowhere near alone in delaying the return, with health concerns unsurprisingly emerging as a determining factor. The UK government removed all guidelines for working from home on July 19, but with infections remaining high, many companies are yet to have all of their employees returned to the office.
In the U.S., prominent tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, Lyft, Wells Fargo, and Wall Street BlackRock are among those who postponed their return to the office to 2022 this month as cases of the more contagious Delta variant increase.
But many other US companies have been running as usual for months. Even within some companies there are inconsistencies: some Facebook contractors have complained that they have been pushed back into offices even though permanent employees stay at home.
When companies return, vaccination status proves to be one of the biggest points of friction. The 2.1 million employees in US central government offices are now required to provide their vaccination status on forms presented this month. Joe Biden personally announced that those who have not been stung will have to wear masks and socially distance themselves from colleagues in order to make their personal decisions very publicly visible.
In Montana, asking for vaccines as a requirement for employment is viewed as “discrimination.” Photo: Thom Bridge / AP
However, the individual states pursue very different approaches that reflect political divisions. Democrat-controlled California last week mandated that all teachers be vaccinated or given weekly tests. In contrast, Republican-dominated Florida, Texas, and Montana have all attempted to outlaw vaccination regulations, with varying degrees of success. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who himself infected Covid-19 this week, has appealed to the state’s Supreme Court after lower courts ruled his ban on government agencies or private companies receiving state funds from wearing Require masks or proof of vaccination.
Still, many American companies are tougher than anywhere else in the world when it comes to vaccinating workers, in part because of the federal policy updated in May that specifically allows employers to require it. Unvaccinated employees are banned from the buildings of the investment banks Citigroup, Jefferies and Morgan Stanley, while at JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank they have to take regular Covid-19 tests.
The aviation industry is among the most ardent to exude an aura of Covid security: Australia’s Qantas and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific have both mandated vaccines for some employees.
In Europe, some labor lawyers believe that vaccination orders from individual employers are unlikely to be legal, even though the UK and France have introduced vaccination requirements for nursing and health workers.
I really think this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for generations to come from Peter Cheese
France, Italy and Germany have all introduced controversial badges that show the vaccination or testing status required to enter places like restaurants, cafes and movie theaters. In Bordeaux, an attempt is being made in tourist areas to issue wristbands to vaccinated people so that they can easily prove their status when entering bars and restaurants. Some French employees are required to show their ID at work, as are Italian teachers.
Despite all efforts to bring workers back safely, the longest battle can be fought over those who wish to continue working from home, at least temporarily. UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak has repeatedly said that working from home harms the prospects of younger workers.
Vacuum cleaner tycoon Sir James Dyson this week called the return to the office critical to the competitiveness of the UK economy. In the Telegraph he wrote that Boris Johnson should restore companies’ right to determine where employees work – how unpopular.
Still, there is compelling evidence that the pandemic has resulted in a permanent shift towards home or hybrid working. A survey of 120 UK companies shared with the Guardian by insurance broker Willis Towers Watson shows that 41% of employers expect to use hybrid labor in two years, compared to 10% two years ago. In the US, a May poll by McKinsey of 500 top executives found that 48% of workers expected to spend only two or three days a week in the office, compared with 8% before the pandemic.
Some employers are also enthusiastic and are lurking for an opportunity to cut costs. In the UK, an anonymous cabinet minister told the Daily Mail that officials should be forced to cut salaries when working from home. The abolition of the “London weighting” – an additional payment to cover the higher costs in the capital – was a possible option.
However, Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove described the comments as “unhelpful” and labor lawyers were quick to point out that UK employers would almost certainly face constructive dismissal cases if they attempted unilaterally to what a contract stipulated Cut salary. Melanie Stancliffe, a labor law partner at Cripps Pemberton Greenish, said she has not seen an employer attempt to cut wages, even among those contemplating cutting costs.
Peter Cheese, the chief executive of the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personal and Development, suggested employers adopt new ways of working. Companies have the opportunity to change their “very traditional work paradigms” while making themselves more attractive to potential employees, he said. “I really believe this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for generations to change work practices that have not changed since the industrial age.”
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