Every month, Wellable asks a single question to the large, growing, and dedicated community of human resources and wellness professionals subscribed to the Wellable Newsletter. The question for March was about when employers plan to fully reopen offices. This poll did not address offices that reopen but will either not require employees to be on-site or will have employees come in less often.

When is your organization expecting to fully open the office? 

Percent of offices reopening after COVID-19Of the 124 employers that Wellable polled, roughly one out of four (24%) plan to reopen in the second quarter of 2021. Most employers are planning to re-open later in 2021, with 31% aiming for the third quarter and another 19% looking to reopen during the fourth quarter. Still, several employers don’t anticipate opening any time soon, with 13% pushing this date into 2022; and a similar amount (12%) don’t plan on reopening at all.

Pivoting Away From On-Site Perks

In addition to the 12% that will not reopen offices at all, there are a number of employers not accounted for in this poll that will also have fewer workers on-site—either because these companies will no longer require employees to be physically in the office or because they will restrict on-site hours and/or have employees come in only on select days. As a result, people will be spending a lot less time working inside office spaces. This will have a significant impact on the way employee wellness programs and benefits need to be approached.

The value and relevance of on-site perks—such as food and beverage options, fitness facilities, childcare services, specialized work equipment, and certain social events—will likely drop. Telehealth and virtual services already skyrocketed in popularity during the pandemic and will likely continue to be important to many employees in terms of meeting various wellness and health needs. Many people are no longer interested in working out in gyms but are opting for at-home equipment and virtual programming. Similarly, more people are using food and grocery delivery services, and workplace cafeterias and kitchens are closed or under-utilized. Instead of investing in free healthy snacks, employers may want to provide employees with credits to use with a food delivery service or offer access to nutrition resources and programs to help with at-home meal planning.

A sense of community will need to be supported through digital communication platforms, along with a more intentional approach to social well-being—scheduling time for casual conversation before or after meetings, managers reaching out regularly via email, and forming virtual spaces (like a special Slack or Teams channel) where employees with similar interests can gather.

Additionally, employers need to rethink how they spend their resources on physical office space. This may mean that a less-expensive, smaller space is all that is really needed. It may also mean that companies should no longer invest in on-site fitness or caregiving facilities; instead, they can support employees with subsidies for childcare, dependent care flexible spending accounts, referrals to caregiving providers, flexible scheduling options, access to virtual fitness programming, and discounts on workout equipment. All of these benefits provide more flexibility, control, and relevance for the off-site worker.

Finally, if employees need special equipment or technology to complete their job well, employers may want to offer financial support for home office purchases.

Returning To Work Safely

Even for offices that plan to reopen soon and with the same capacity as before, changes to the office space need to be considered. In the 2021 Wellable Industry Trends Report, brokers indicated that physical office spaces will still look different even after the pandemic has subsided. Those surveyed expect companies will change the way that physical spaces are utilized and continue to support efforts with stricter safety measures. Employers may want to reconfigure office spaces to better allow for more social distancing, eliminate communal food bins in kitchens, restrict the use of conference rooms, minimize gatherings and meetings, maintain signage to promote good hygiene, and configure panels or dividers between workers and customers. Most likely, this won’t require any additional effort; it will simply mean that employers maintain some of the practices they have already put in place during the pandemic.

With this in mind, even fully-reopened offices will need to approach benefits differently and pay close attention to how employee wellness needs and productivity change when finally returning to work.

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