Joni Mitchell only looked at clouds, love, and life in her 1966 song “Both Sides Now.” In today’s post-pandemic culture, there are so many issues to look at from different views. The following are some of the hotly debated matters which small businesses need to resolve in the pandemic recovery period. There are both sides to each of these matters, so ultimately, it’s up to the owner to decide, within the limits allowed by law.
Should businesses require employees to return to the office? (Obviously, restaurants, retail stores, construction businesses, and other businesses need employees onsite.) Should businesses allow employees to continue working remotely—permanently, occasionally, temporarily until COVID-19 is completely resolved? What’s the best work arrangement for the company and for the staff?
Pros of returning to the office.
Some employees prefer the structure of the workday at the office, including lunch hours and breaks with colleagues. From the company perspective, it’s easier to organize meeting and stay on top of productivity. (Note that some employees claim to be more productive working from home.)
Cons of returning to the office.
Some employees continue to have childcare responsibilities that are best served by working from home. From the company perspective, requiring the physical presence at the office precludes the opportunity to hire the best employees, regardless of their location.
What to do:
Decide what work arrangement is best for your business. Determine whether and when it’s “safe” for employees to return to the office if this is your preference. You may be able to offer options on an employee-by-employee basis. Many companies are adopting hybrid arrangements, where employees work mainly from home but are required to be present at the office for a certain number of days each month.
Should businesses require employees to be vaccinated in order to continue employment? Should the policy allow for exemptions (e.g., religious objections; health concerns)? According to WebMD, there are still 90 million Americans uncertain about whether to get vaccinated.
Pros of requiring vaccinations.
Many studies show that having the vaccine is a prevention against either contracting COVID-19 or at least having serious consequences if infected.
Cons of requiring vaccinations.
Many people continue to have concerns about the safety or effectiveness of the vaccine. The Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine received FDA approval on August 23, 2021. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still waiting for approval.
What to do:
Whether you decide to mandate that employees be vaccinated depends on your business. If you don’t require vaccines but want to influence employees to get them, consider having respectful conversations about the efficacy of the vaccine (a video clip has some helpful tips). Consider giving paid time off for a vaccine appointment.
Note: The U.S. Supreme Court in 1905 effectively allowed the government to mandate vaccines (the case concerned a smallpox outbreak and a fine imposed for not being vaccinated). Whether federal, state, or local governments will adopt a mandate now remains to be seen.
The CDC has guidelines for masking, even for those who’ve been vaccinated. Nonetheless, there continues to be controversy about masking—requiring it or preventing mandatory masking. Finnair, for example, requires masking on flights using surgical masks, valveless FFP2 or FFP3 masks, or other kinds of valveless masks following the equivalent standards (N95); masks made of fabric, face shields, masks with a valve, or scarves used as a mask are not allowed.
Pros of masking.
Masking may protect employees, customers, and other business guests from exposure to the virus. It may also provide a psychological comfort level to them.
Cons of masking.
Masks can become contaminated when worn for long hours. Experts differ on the efficacy of certain masks (as Finnair’s action demonstrates). Some individuals claim masks are detrimental to their health. And even if masking effectively prevents the spread of the virus, it’s clear that wearing masks creates a barrier to communication. Is someone smiling?
What to do:
It’s advisable to follow CDC guidelines in adopting a masking policy. Doing so may be good for business now and prevent any liability claims. Yes, some states have enacted liability protection for businesses, but this may be conditioned on observing government-set guidelines.
The way to handle any contentious issue for your business remains constant, regardless of the issue involved:
- Be open in communicating. Don’t belittle differing points of view.
- Consider company values as well as what matters to employees and customers. Think “facts” and “feelings.”
- Make a decision. If possible, accommodate those who may be unhappy with company policies. Author Malcolm Gladwell said: “Truly successful decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.”