Call it what you will. COVIDgeddon. Coronapocalypse. The Great Disruption. The Great Reset. Regardless of the name, the nature of the last two and a half years has left an indelible mark on society; one that tips the scales of work-life balance decidedly toward life.
Nearly 30 months after COVID-19 entered the common vernacular and infiltrated our lives, many employees who were told to work remotely remain remote. But with the COVID threat subsiding and pressure mounting—whether self-imposed or via Wall Street—many employers find themselves at a crossroads, debating the pros and cons of remote, hybrid or completely on-site work arrangements. Employers leaning toward any amount of return to on-site work, in particular, have much to consider.
In February, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 11.3 million job openings in the United States. A FlexJobs survey reveals 58% of remote workers would look for a new job if they were not permitted to continue working remotely in their current job. Recent data from ZipRecruiter shows that jobs identified as remote receive 300% more applicants than jobs not identified as remote. And according to a NEXT Energy Technologies survey, 57% of employees believe their health was negatively impacted when they worked on-site at their place of employment prior to the pandemic.
The research seems to suggest that employees have the upper hand on if they return to the office and under what circumstances. So, what’s an employer to do to make their place of business a place their employees want to be? A good starting point is to ensure the physical building space meets employee and tenant needs and expectations.
Commit to Stewardship
In the years leading up to the pandemic, sustainability was a household phrase, and individuals and businesses alike latched onto the idea of making a difference for the planet and future generations by adhering to environmental stewardship practices both large and small. Those efforts came to a near halt, however, as hygiene—often at any cost—took center stage during the pandemic. But a number of recent surveys suggest that environmental practices that benefit society and the environment are once again gaining ground.
Research from the Center for Creative Learning states that because employees’ personal identities are connected to their jobs and the companies they work for, corporate social responsibility efforts can help attract and retain employees and increase their commitment and engagement. This is particularly true among women and millennials. Further supporting the value of stewardship, the NEXT survey referenced earlier also found that 74% of employees are willing to leave their jobs if health and sustainability are not appropriately addressed in the workplace.
This connection between health and sustainability aligns with the burgeoning concept of wellness—the intersection of the spaces in which individuals live, work and recreate with the impact they have on mental, physical and even spiritual health. The emergence of the International WELL Building Institute, with its standards related to building design, facility operations and employer practices, demonstrates how relevant this idea of wellness is and the critical role environmental stewardship plays in achieving it.
Remain Attentive to Hygiene
Health as a tenet of wellness requires a relentless commitment to hygiene. Fortunately, while the pandemic no longer poses the same threat to human life that it did just six months ago, one of its lasting lessons is vigilance, particularly as it relates to hygiene. Building owners and facility managers across the country and the world not only adapted to the elevated hygiene needs driven by the coronavirus; they implemented new policies, protocols and practices that turned daily maintenance into the non-stop pursuit of sanitation, disinfection and infection control. Turning back to now antiquated cleaning practices is not an option.
Case in point: A Stratus Building Services survey found that 90% of Americans want businesses to make sanitation a priority. This statistic is not unexpected. After all, employees spent the last two-plus years having complete control over their workspace, including who came and went, what surfaces to clean, how frequently to clean, what cleaning products to use, and so on.
In today’s world, a hygienic workplace isn’t just about reducing the risk of cross-contamination and the spread of viruses. It’s also about providing that peace of mind that employees had in their own homes when they were responsible for their own safety.
Spotlight Your Efforts
The Stratus survey noted previously says that 86% of Americans want proof that businesses are following a regular cleaning and hygiene program. Visibility into your practices is the most authentic way to provide that proof, not only in regard to hygiene but also stewardship.
Workplace hygiene transparency efforts could include:
- Installing touchless faucets, soap dispensers, flush valves and paper towel dispensers in your restrooms (throughout the pandemic, “touchless” became synonymous with “hygienic” for its ability to help reduce or prevent cross contamination)
- Placing signage inside restrooms identifying when they were last cleaned and by whom
- Installing entry signage that states an employer or facility commitment to hygiene
- Sharing elevated hygiene measures in a weekly or monthly employee or tenant newsletter
Transparency in regard to environmental stewardship is equally important, particularly recognizing how essential it is to attracting and retaining employees. Stewardship transparency efforts could include:
- Using brown paper towels in restrooms and breakrooms to provide an obvious visual cue that sustainability efforts are in play
- Leveraging smart restroom technology to monitor and manage restroom conditions and product supply and then sharing data on things like water, paper and soap waste reduction with employees and tenants
- Achieving and showcasing third-party certifications from sustainability-focused organizations
- Dedicating part of the company website to a company’s or facility’s commitment to improving human and environmental stewardship
Create a Culture of Care
Businesses are well aware that the pandemic irrevocably changed how people live, work and recreate. For employers who believe a return-to-office is necessary, a culture of care can be the difference between a robust and engaged workforce and a permanent “We’re Hiring” sign. While a culture of care extends far beyond stewardship, hygiene and visibility, research clearly shows that prioritizing these three areas of focus can provide a positive return for employees and the bottom line.
About the Author:
Julie Howard is vice president and general manager of GP PRO’s towel, skin care and air care categories. GP PRO is a division of Georgia-Pacific and a leading provider of advanced restroom solutions for commercial facilities. To learn more about GP PRO, visit www.gppro.com.