CandE Coronavirus at Work Survey: How Companies Are Going Back to Work

The first thing was surprising enough to me: the fact that there was a company that had gone mostly remote due to COVID-19 and was now already all 100% back onsite for the past month. Fair enough – there have been lots of businesses where some or many of their employees have been working in-person onsite, whether that’s in an office, a plant, a store or wherever. Because there are those who cannot and will never be able to work remotely based on the work they do.

But the company I reference above isn’t a consumer-based company. A year into the pandemic with 50%-60% of the U.S. getting vaccinated, their business leadership decided that it was time for everyone to be onsite working again. No more working from home or remote working from anywhere.

The second thing that surprised me was the fact that they lost a critical technical team because of the mandate. Individuals who didn’t want to go back and work in the office full-time and who had opportunities elsewhere to keep the flexibility of working remotely. Individuals the company is struggling to find now because of the competitive flexibility found elsewhere.

I realize now that it’s not that really all that surprising, that too many employees are still wary of coronavirus and safety issues, and the fact that there may remote opportunities elsewhere. This is what prompted us to launch a new series of short surveys about how companies are going back to work. We ran a series in 2020 about the impact of covid on recruiting and hiring, and now we want to revisit that theme.

In this latest short survey of nearly 100 companies, the primary responding industries were healthcare (16%), technology (14%), manufacturing (8%), services (7%), transportation (7%) and a myriad of others including aerospace & defense, education, finance & insurance and more. 70% of the companies have over 500 employees.

The good news is that 52% have increased hiring and the U.S. added 916,000 jobs in March. Some of these industries never stopped throughout the past year, and the primary industries in our latest survey include:

  • Healthcare
  • Technology
  • Transportation
  • Services
  • Consumer Goods
  • Finance & Insurance
  • Manufacturing

45% have also outlined recruiting and hiring plans for the next 6-12 months. But how are these companies going back to work? Where will they physically be, or where they think they’ll be? 45% say they’ll be mostly remote and some onsite (see Table 1).

Table 1. How will your organization go to work in the next few months?

Hybrid – mostly remote and some onsite (office/store/plant/etc.)45%
Hybrid – close to 50/50 remote and onsite15%
All remote (out of area and work-from-home in area)15%
Hybrid – some remote and mostly onsite14%
All onsite5%
I don’t know5%

On Dec. 16, 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance clarifying that employers are lawfully permitted to require employees to be vaccinated before returning to work, subject to several exceptions, according to the National Law Review. This is subject to several exceptions including:

  1. Disability considerations
  2. Religious accommodations
  3. Mandatory vaccination policies trigger additional obligations under the ADA and other laws

However, in our latest short survey, only 6% of companies said they would require proof of vaccination, and 40% don’t know yet. They may ask employees to self-disclose their vaccination status, or produce a negative covid test prior to working onsite, but so far in our data they won’t require proof. That could change in the next 2-3 months and we’ll check in again soon.

Then we asked, “If your business leadership is requiring employees to be onsite, even with safety protocols in place, are you worried about retaining and recruiting critical employees who may have more flexible remote opportunities elsewhere?” A resounding 62% said yes. This is how I started this article as well, and when we had a discussion with our CandE community, it’s definitely top of mind.

Not only that, 61% of the responding companies said that they were also considering the impact of how their organizations will go to work (remote vs. onsite) on their diversity and inclusion recruiting efforts – and of course, their candidate experience.

What does all that mean? Organizations may be worried about the impact, but not many are quantifying the impact yet. Only 8% said they’ve run a financial impact analysis of remaining fully remote versus going hybrid (remote and onsite) versus requiring everyone onsite, and how that could impact recruiting and retention. Another 25% said they were working on it, so that’s a start at least.

Where and how employees will work will still always be determined by the very nature of the work at hand. Restaurant employees can’t work remotely like tech company employees can – and the list of exceptions goes on and on. Company culture and employer brand doesn’t come locked in a box either.

No matter how we all work, the fallout from COVID-19 will continue to plague us all. Plus, remote/onsite flexibility, offering childcare, paying living wages, closing the gender/people of color pay gaps, government stimulus and incentives, regulatory considerations and so much more will continue to be both challenges and competitive differentiators for businesses. The reality for most organizations big and small across industries is that the future post-covid is coming fast, and getting comfortable with uncertainty and constant change will be the only certainties we can count on. No surprises there.

Lastly, 66% said they’d be willing to have a town hall style discussion about how we go back to work, so that’s exactly what we’re going to do on May 26 at 2 pm ET – register here. Join us!


Be safe and well.

Kevin Grossman, Talent Board President

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