Can hybrid work be safe in the fall?
Hybrid work is here to stay. In industries where the work is amenable to a hybrid model, its popularity is resoundingly positive. Employees enjoy the benefits of in-person work when necessary for important meetings, collaboration, mentorship, and team building. Less commuting allows less wasted time, more flexibility for personal issues like childcare, fewer office politics, cost savings, and greater autonomy.
If done properly, hybrid work can also yield a safer work environment.
One of the problems with daily in-person work is a greater degree of interaction with workers in close quarters where communicable diseases can be spread more easily. This threat is magnified during a period of high COVID infections in the community or a flu season. Previously, workers appeared to loathe taking a full 5-day workweek off even though they may have been contagious this whole time from an active case of the flu. Now, after two pandemic years of working from home, taking an extra 2-3 days off in the office (while doing some work from home unless someone has a very severe illness) is much more acceptable.
Due to the higher lethality of COVID over the flu, the need to prevent COVID transmission to fellow workers is magnified. Here again, the abbreviated in-person workweek is beneficial. With fewer days in the office, the likelihood of transmission is less. Additionally, readily available home tests are available for COVID and can minimize the likelihood of transmission. Workplaces can minimize the likelihood that a recently infected individual gives their coworkers an infection by requiring a test prior to return. Since the hybrid work schedule is generally midweek, surveillance testing can prevent asymptomatic infected individuals from going to the workplace. This last strategy may be most valuable during times of high community spread of COVID.
Hybrid work presents a new set of challenges for office health and safety. A rationale approach to this area can maximize its benefits even more and create more workplace productivity.