Image: iStock/Nattakorn Maneerat

Now, with a COVID-19 vaccine being introduced, will it be a return to “business as usual?” As the preventative med slowly makes its way throughout the US population, the enterprise is thinking about its future—so much so, that a new KPMG survey, “Reopen offices?” revealed 99% of employers are prepared to invest in technology to facilitate that “return,” whether it will be back to the office, telecommuting, or a hybrid of both. The investment will focus on using technology to address employee wellness, readiness, and workforce health-tracking.

“Technology can play a critical role in enabling more sophisticated approaches to employee wellness and disease risk management,” said Paul Hencoski, KPMG advisory principal and health and government solutions leader, in the report. To gather data, KPMG surveyed 100 US companies representing 5 million employees.

The biggest question for the many working remotely is “When are/If we’re going back to the office?” According to the KPMG survey, only 27% of employers plan to return to physical offices “in the near term,” with most citing the reopening of workplaces to later in 2021, and still others are saying they will permanently not require a return to the office.

With employee wellness in mind, 82% of companies will let employees decide when they feel safe and comfortable to return to the office. Only 18% issued or will issue a mandate that employees return to the office by a certain date.

And in the “no surprise” category, 46% of survey participants said profitability is their No. 1 priority. The other categories, which garnered 42% to 37%, a similar range, included adding additional health benefits, new talent acquisition and retention strategies, location strategies, long-term remote work policies, digitize sales interaction, and digitize service interactions.

The report revealed that there is still such uncertainty regarding the state COVID-19—a vaccine will slowly become available, but 3,000 Americans continue to die daily—that even though they’d like staff to return to offices, they won’t make plans “until guidance is clearer.” A small portion of those served said that they “completed a return-to-office risk and policy framework” (yet very few have executed plans), but most lack testing and tracing strategies, as well as plans for vaccine management.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

“The hastily crafted policies and patchwork technologies that helped certain industries manage immediate operational and workflow challenges during the pandemic simply won’t cut it long term,” Hencoski said.

Most business leaders now accept that the workforce will never operate the way it did pre-COVID-19, and realize that some or all of future customer and employee interactions will be virtual. The report stressed that serious assessment of the organization’s needs is “a strategic imperative” before a major transformation takes place.

Managing the workforce’s health is, of course, critical and offices that plan to reopen need to institute strict safety guidelines and “creating new office workflows,” the report stated. Social distancing, contact tracing, daily symptom checks, and extra sanitation must be maintained. In a survey reply, here’s what employers said they’ll do: 57% social distancing, 48% contact tracing, 44% daily symptom check and approval to return, 43% masks, 43% will prohibit high-risk individuals from returning, and 42% cited extra sanitation.

Companies must avoid the potential of significant risks, which include being unprepared, not conducting an analysis on needs, not having a plan, not meeting critical business needs “in the new reality,” not examining methods to attract and retain talent, and not optimizing operational costs.

To make the transition (if there is to be one) back to the office, a company cannot afford to be cavalier, it must evaluate all elements carefully, and, the report noted, if it opens, it must stay open, and not close because of a lack of preparedness.