When in-person work became safer, the feasibility of partial remote work allowed hybrid work to become efficient and practical in certain circumstances. Through ongoing insights and observations, employers started creating new rules to optimize a healthy workforce. Concurrently, accommodations were made for many employees who did not need to work in person, and hybrid work became popular. As the pandemic continued, employers started to value sound employee health even more. They needed the full complement of labor working to meet the demands of the pandemic economy. But those affected by Long Covid threaten businesses even more as an estimated 1 in 5 American adults might still be victims as of June 2022. However, the growth of hybrid work came with several negative impacts. Loss of in-person communication has hurt the development of close relationships and hindered mentorship opportunities. In many ways, the pandemic made the actual work more challenging and mentally taxing. The remote work created longer workdays to accommodate teleconferences from other time zones. People could not escape the work environment fully with off-hours email needing to be monitored. Employees missed office camaraderie and professional growth. They received positive feedback remotely on work performance. Having less employees in the office may also lead to other health problems for employees who relied on their commute for their daily exercise. The lack of commuting and going from place to place might contribute to a more sedentary lifestyle. Additionally, subtle signs of ill health or even Long Covid symptoms such as brain fog may not be as readily detected. In a devastating or worst-case scenario, a disease like Long Covid may not be as noticed until there is a prominent manifestation. I believe that these conditions have the possibility to negatively impact businesses. While this effect may be most quantifiable for industrial segments, all companies can be affected. The actual product of the business may suffer as there will be less optimal development of talent and worse productive collaboration. The contribution from future employee ideas will decline with the intellect loss due to Long Covid and other health-related issues. More off-site work could lead to less team cohesiveness and decreased company loyalty. Healthcare costs may become more expensive and higher insurance costs might ensue. Subsequently, less continuity of staff could require more expensive recruitments and further production harm. Mental health issues also skyrocketed during the pandemic. On top of that, employees have experienced a variety of personal illnesses or death of loved ones and may be fearful of the threat of Covid to themselves or others. Some may be having financial problems due to some effects from the pandemic or are overwhelmed with a chronic illness or Long Covid. The loneliness of the remote work with less face-to-face contact may also had contributed to affective disorders. Elevating employee health can prevent these possibilities at your company. These issues will need to be addressed specifically by businesses. They will need to allocate additional capital for healthcare concerns. Health insurance plans may need to be augmented. Active employees may need superior coverage for ill family members with Long Covid or other needs. Consider making flexible work schedules to accommodate personal and family physician visits more commonplace.
Minimizing sick days for businesses and attention to community Covid and flu rates will be valuable. Scheduling may need to become more strategic to avoid widespread absences at high times of illnesses. Consider surveillance testing at high disease rates for selective or larger employee populations. Contact tracing may be needed in tight assembly lines or to document the safety of key personnel. Wellness apps and partnerships with mental health companies will be essential to companies trying to grasp the magnitude of these issues within their workforces.
I believe the effects of the pandemic will continue to affect businesses in a myriad of ways in the foreseeable future unless they find an organized strategy to address these issues for optimal productivity. Take on more responsibility for employee health and specifically support mental health. Limit communicable illnesses and decrease healthcare costs. The businesses that choose to support this ideal can provide their employees a competitive and desirable place to work. Other businesses with less attention to employee health and welfare will risk being added to the growing list of pandemic victims. Dr. Soumi Eachempati, MD, FACS, FCCM, CEO of CLEARED4 and former Professor of Surgery and Public Health, Weill Cornell