Returning to the workplace in 2021

Q:  In early 2021 I expect that I will be asked to work from the office again.  I will admit my employer is very stringent about safety precautions and COVID-19 protocol.  However, I am nervous.  I know some of my coworkers have holiday travel plans.  What recourse do I have if I refuse to return to the office?

A:  This is a difficult time for employers.  Most of our clients are trying to navigate this strange new world.  Many have implemented safety measures, from closing down their lunch rooms to reducing the number of employees in the office.  However, with widespread vaccine distribution approaching in 2021, employers are beginning to plan for a return to some sense of normalcy.

Many employers will be continuing to offer remote work options through 2021, but I envision that will change.  I think once the vaccine becomes more widely available, many employers will be expecting employees to return to the workplace.  Some may offer some part-time remote work options, but others may be looking to invite employees back on a full-time basis, with safety guidelines like social distancing and facial coverings still intact.  Some of our clients are offering some flexibility around work hours, which seems to be helping with both child care and social distancing.  Some employees are coming in the office during the afternoons and working through the early evenings.  Others are working out of the office on weekends.  Flexible work hours can help alleviate parking challenges, particularly if employees are reluctant to take public transportation.  Some work locations only offer a limited number of parking spots (think downtown Boston or Cambridge).

Most employers are offering a lot of flexibility in terms of returning to the workplace, but the expectation to return to the workplace is there.  Who knows what month? May, June, July?  It is hard to tell as the vaccine will be first made available to first responders and others in higher risk categories.  The current timeline for the general public is April – June, 2021.  These estimated dates are for Massachusetts only.  Most estimates are expecting that in early summer, we will resume some type of normalcy.

That being said, if you can’t envision yourself returning to your workplace this summer, I would suggest that you explore other roles.  Most of our clients have truly tried to accommodate all types of requests since March, 2020 but they are eager to return to some type of onsite workforce in 2021.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.