Should retailers reconsider bringing their HQ staff back to work?

Discussion
Photo: Apple
Jul 22, 2021

Apple is pushing back the expected return timeline for its headquarters personnel from September to October in response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases across most of the U.S.

The consumer technology giant has promised employees at its Cupertino, CA, headquarters that it will provide them with at least a month’s advance notice before they are asked to return to work on the company’s campus.

“As the situation continues to evolve, we’re committed to the same measured approach that we have taken all along,” said an email to Apple employees shared with The New York Times.

Apple has earned high marks from workers’ advocates and public health professionals for its decisions to close stores in the U.S. and elsewhere where COVID-19 has posed a safety risk to associates and customers. The company is taking the additional step of testing a “Retail Flex” work model that will allow associates to split their hours between working in stores on some weeks and handling online sales, customer service and tech support remotely on others.

The news on Apple’s current plan comes at a time when employers are determining how to organize their workforces as state and local health authorities have lifted many of the mask and social distancing measures that had been in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. Some companies have been insistent on workers returning to their offices while others have either chosen to go the hybrid route or, in some cases, allow employees to continue working remotely.

The recent rise of COVID-19 cases across most of the U.S. is being tied most directly to the spread of the Delta variant. Less than half of the nation’s population is currently vaccinated against the virus. Confirmed cases rose to more than 35,000 on Monday, a nearly 200 percent jump from two weeks before. Deaths, which lag positive tests, are up 44 percent over the same period. Eighty-three percent of all cases have been tied to the Delta variant.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should employers reduce the number of workers in offices at this time and use hybrid or completely remote models to get work done? Do you think companies need to rethink how workers perform their jobs even after challenges created by the Delta variant are addressed?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"With or without the delta variant it is clearly time to rethink our traditional ideas around work, productivity, public health, and about a thousand other things. "
"The #1 lesson from the pandemic overall – the agility to adapt quickly. The fact is we’re all still adapting, and we’re not done adapting."
"At the end of the day, due to the advance of awesome technologies, really thinking out the need to be in-office is WAY overdue."

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15 Comments on "Should retailers reconsider bringing their HQ staff back to work?"


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Bob Amster
BrainTrust

I believe that, regrettably, we do not yet know enough about how working from home as opposed to a hybrid, as opposed to working full time in the office affects – independently – the psyche of the employee and the efficacy of the business. There will be studies in the next five years that look back at this pandemic event and render results that may surprise all of, or that are indeterminate.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

The delta variant is wreaking havoc on plans in all areas of business. The unknown is causing people to rethink their short-term plans. As companies were starting to curb the remote work to a hybrid model, and in some cases a complete return to their offices, the delta variant is causing some to reconsider.

The research on remote and hybrid models are confusing at best. Some studies claim productivity is up in the remote model. Others claim the opposite. Management style plays a part in this. The remote model has been in place long enough to know if it works or doesn’t for a specific company and their leadership/management style. After all safety and health issues are considered, it is the choice of the leadership to determine what model works best.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

I don’t think this is a “should” question anymore. I think it has now become a “can” and “how” question. So many lessons have been learned about remote work and work from home that the pandemic is now only one of the variables to consider in establishing a company work model and ethic. Productivity, work/life balance, time utterly wasted on commuting, and the expense of travel are all variables that have new metrics, metrics we didn’t know would be possible a year ago. Forget “should.” It’s now “can” and “how.”

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

To quote a ’90s rom-com; it’s complicated. Hopefully no one, after the last 16 months, is going to demand that everyone come back to work. That’s just neanderthal thinking in my opinion. The return strategy needs to be thought out in detail by department, by productivity rates, by collaboration need and (gasp) by personal pressures. Anyone who doesn’t approach it that way, in this day and age of hiring needs, is asking for turnover. At the end of the day, due to the advance of awesome technologies, really thinking out the need to be in-office is WAY overdue. I guess everything has a silver lining, even pandemics.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

You said “productivity rates,” I said “efficacy.” Definitely one of many factors.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

With or without the delta variant it is clearly time to rethink our traditional ideas around work, productivity, public health, and about a thousand other things. To answer the question directly, yes. With the rate of the unvaccinated hovering close to 40 percent and the highly infectious nature of the delta variant you begin to see the common sense foundation behind Apple’s approach. What we aren’t thinking about is that the unvaccinated are essentially walking test labs for other potential variants, some of which may be vaccine resistant. The longer the numbers of the unvaccinated hold steady, the better the odds that a variant will emerge that can’t be contained by the current vaccines. Also, we need to understand that COVID-19 isn’t a “one-off.” It’s perfectly possible that we will see another pandemic, the only question is when. Beyond the public health concerns we’ve all learned a great deal about work — how it is done, what’s best for us, what we can do without, and what is critical. That alone deserves a rethink.

Scott Norris
Guest

Given recent court rulings saying mandatory vaccination policies are acceptable, I can’t see how insurers will permit companies to concentrate large groups at HQ facilities without proof of vaccination. If “every COVID-19 death is now preventable,” then by extension any harm caused will have some degree of liability for the employer/building manager. Frankly, I’m amazed the lawyers haven’t been all over this already.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

Looking at the discussion questions, the second question is the only one that needs to be asked. Should companies need to rethink how workers perform their jobs? The answer is a resounding YES. Companies need to always challenge the status quo. If you are doing what you have always been doing in today’s world, you will not even get what you have gotten before. The virus has reshaped the world of work the same way the assembly line reshaped production.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Previously the only place for a HQ staff to work was in the office. There were some outliers such as people whose job required them to be on the road or with clients who could go into the office one day a week, for meetings, etc. Then came the pandemic and we learned that with today’s technology, many if not most HQ staff functions could be performed remotely.

Going forward I believe some form of hybrid system will be the norm for many headquarters. The delta variant may delay its implementation, but I don’t foresee most companies going back to requiring everyone to work in their offices every day.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Given where we are in the pandemic, I do not think this is the time for companies to demand people return to work. Even when the pandemic is over, it is very clear that many employees want more flexible working arrangements and I think businesses are going to have to adapt and respond to that.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

With what we know now about the delta variant, and what we don’t know, I’d keep the same precautions that companies have implemented during COVID-19. Perhaps a monthly meeting at corporate offices for the vaccinated ones to keep everyone on the same rhythm and page. Beyond that, be sure to read read Ryan Mathews’ comments in this discussion.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

There’s no question that the pandemic changed how we work and, in many cases, for many employees, it changed for the better. However we can’t assume that is true for everyone. Some form of hybrid working model is very likely to become the norm going forward, but the delta variant is reminding us that we’re not out of this pandemic just yet. That means companies will still have to adapt to changing conditions for the near term future. That’s the #1 lesson from the pandemic overall – the agility to adapt quickly. The fact is we’re all still adapting, and we’re not done adapting.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

My contacts in the CPG space have shared several perspectives on returning to the office: Company A – corporate headquarters pilot plan for a limited group of people testing negative back to office for 2-3 days per week. Only those fully vaccinated could be considered to take part. Company B – Required to wear a mask outside of your office/cube if you have not been vaccinated. If you have, no mask required. Flex day on Friday’s where you can work from home if needed. Company C – After Labor Day, offices will be return to office a minimum 3 days/week. Employees will be A or B which designates which days of those weeks they are in person. Company D – Aiming for 9/7 return then for the remainder on a flexible basis worked out with the colleagues and managers. Believe people will be in 2-3 days a week. We also require masks if not vaccinated in common areas. We expect the office to be pretty empty on Fridays.

storewanderer
Guest
12 days 7 hours ago

Short answer is no.

Long answer is it can be a case by case basis with the safety of the office (capacity) as well as the individual employee in mind.

Those who long for the ongoing office politics and high school atmosphere of the office and those few but vocal folks in management who get a rise out of “seeing everyone at their desk” are fighting hard to get everyone back to the offices as soon as possible, but I do not think they are going to win this battle.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Curiously no one here seems to have mentioned asking employees (what they think should be done). It’s not a cure-all — there’s no reason to expect unanimity in the responses — but it’s hard to imagine a company implementing so important a policy, with so little input from the people most affected by it.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"With or without the delta variant it is clearly time to rethink our traditional ideas around work, productivity, public health, and about a thousand other things. "
"The #1 lesson from the pandemic overall – the agility to adapt quickly. The fact is we’re all still adapting, and we’re not done adapting."
"At the end of the day, due to the advance of awesome technologies, really thinking out the need to be in-office is WAY overdue."

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