With control of the pandemic in sight in the US, finance teams confront how to manage a return to the office.
As the Covid infection rate in the US falls and vaccinations increase, the issue of when and how companies will bring employees back to the office is heating up. Assistant treasurers at a recent NeuGroup meeting sponsored by Societe Generale said some staff will return to corporate offices starting in July, raising a bevy of issues for managers.
- Who will return and how, and just what the workweek looks like, will vary by company. For many, spending five days a week in the office will likely become an anachronism.
- The negative impact of having no communication in person has been a fear expressed in NeuGroup meetings since early in the pandemic. After a year of remote work, members mulled whether finance teams face long-term damage.
Culture concerns. Many companies seek to develop positive and productive cultures that the remote work environment may be putting in jeopardy.
- One member said that new hires are having difficulty integrating and getting a “good pulse” of the corporate culture. One reason is that for many people, remote learning is less efficient.
- “When companies say they’re going fully remote, I don’t think they fully understand what that does to their culture over longer periods of time,” he said.
- One assistant treasurer walked the floor of his company’s office and saw many cubicles without name tags because the company had reorganized and many employees had left. “With all these new people coming, I’m not sure how we can get them up to speed quickly,” he said.
- Several members reported turnover and the need to hire staff. One had hired a treasury analyst remotely who initially wanted to telework. Now the person is looking forward to going to the office, interacting with colleagues and feeling more a part of the team.
- Junior employees seem to want to come back to the office more than seasoned staff, one member said, “because they feel their careers are getting a bit short-changed without exposure to people.”
Hybrid hassles. Many employees prefer working remotely for at least part of the week, so coordinating when people come to the office to maximize interaction may be a challenge without mandates.
- A member’s Singapore office has been open to all employees for several months and only requires wearing a mask. But “the office is still pretty empty,” she said. “Just as it was very difficult to start working from home, it’s going to be very difficult to bring people back to the office.”
- And where the infection rate remains high and more restrictions are in place, one-on-one connections may still be difficult. “I’ll be damned if I’m going one-on-one with somebody if we each have to go into focus booths in the same building,” one AT said.
Liability issues. One member lamented that it would have been helpful if the US federal government had provided liability protection to companies in one of its rescue packages, because many difficult issues must still be resolved.
- Can you only come back to the office if you’re vaccinated, and what proof is required? “If somebody gets sick, or worse very ill after they’ve mandated people to come back—that’s going to be a bigger issue,” the member said.