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COVID-19 Vaccine Policies & the office

While vaccines have given us hope, the pandemic is not in the rear-view mirror, and many of our communities are still facing significant community spread of COVID. Please make sure your organization is doing its part. If you haven’t already adopted a vaccine mandate, I would encourage you to do so. As employers we have a duty to maintain a safe workplace, plus vaccine mandates demonstrate care for our communities. At this point, you will be following the lead of governments and many businesses and nonprofits who have already enacted vaccine mandate policies. Please feel free to download and customize TREC’s sample policy.

Because the pandemic continues, returning to the workplace may be slower than you expected. And, as you return, it is likely that everyone won’t be in-person, all at once in the office. Some staff may continue to work remotely, all or some of the time, while others will work in-person. You’ll need to create new protocols for hybrid work arrangements. Designate and communicate which meetings will be in-person, remote, or hybrid, and which staff are in-person, remote, or hybrid, so everyone knows what to expect. Clear communication really helps to reduce stress.

In the hybrid workplace, inclusion is paramount. Be aware of “proximity bias” where staff who are more visible are perceived to be contributing more. Plan ways to compensate for this, for example in meetings and updates draw attention to work and staff that may be less visible.

Keep in mind that saying that it is optional to be in-person may not feel optional to everyone. Staff may feel they will miss out or be judged by their decision to not be in-person. They may feel subtle pressure from leaders, colleagues, or just from themselves. We are all tired of Zoom meetings, and are anxious to meet in-person, but you may want to consider having everyone log in separately to Zoom for staff meetings as long as some staff are remote. That way, staff in the office and staff working remotely will have the same experience in the meeting.

If you are still working in remote or hybrid arrangements, be sure to continue with the better practices that you learned over the last 18 months of remote working, including:

– When you are meeting and interruptions happen, and they will, make it clear that it is totally fine. Say hello to kids and pets. Make sure everyone knows it is okay if someone has to step out of a meeting, put a call on hold or to go off-camera.
– If you are doing a video call, remember that you are a guest, entering someone’s home. You wouldn’t comment about a blank wall, a cluttered bookcase, or scattered toys in-person, so you shouldn’t in a video call either.
– Video fatigue is real. Just because you can meet on video doesn’t mean you have to; sometimes a phone call will work just as well. Phone calls allow folks to stand up and move around, which is better for their health. If you can meet with someone in-person, consider a walking meeting outside.
– Plan to end meetings 10 minutes early so folks can have a quick break between meetings and calls. For longer meetings or retreats, be sure to take short breaks every hour or longer breaks after a two-hour meeting so folks can move their bodies and attend to kids, pets, and other responsibilities.

The pandemic is lasting longer than any of us had hoped. It is draining on all of us, and for some it has been especially challenging. Be sure to frequently check in on the physical and mental health of your colleagues, while also respecting people’s privacy. If you haven’t already, consider adding employee assistance programs and increased mental health services to your employee health plan. Let us know at TREC if there is anything we can do to support you.

Be safe and take care of each other,

Megan Seibel
TREC Executive Director
Background Image: American Rivers | Scott Bosse

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