Returning to the Office? Delta Says, “Think Again”

August 24, 2021

For many companies, return-to-office planning was a wrap. Leaders spent months and months surveying employees, agonizing over ever-changing CDC and local guidelines, creating new policies, talking with peers, reimagining physical workspaces, rolling out new technology and communicating with their people. It was a tremendous effort – and we know this because we were in the trenches with many of our clients strategizing and preparing – but we all pulled together and got it done. And then…

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from COVID-19, it’s that plans are fickle. The highly contagious Delta variant has us all taking pause to rethink fall plans, which for many companies, included returning to the office in some capacity.

But I’m Vaccinated…

It’s true: vaccination is the best tool we have for protecting ourselves and our loved ones against COVID-19. However, while vaccination is preventing people from getting seriously ill, breakthrough infections can still pose a significant risk to those who remain unvaccinated, including children under the age of 12 who remain completely unprotected against the virus.

So what does this mean for employees? And what role do we, as gatekeepers of the employee experience, play in keeping them and their families safe?

We can start by revisiting those RTO planning documents with a red pen in hand. To kickstart the reexamination, we’ve compiled a list of questions to help teams think through the best options, for their business and their people. Bring these questions to your next RTO Zoom to get the ball rolling.


  • If we haven’t already, is it time to consider mandatory vaccination for employees returning to the office?
  • What protocols will we implement on campus to keep people protected, regardless of vaccination status?
  • How does the majority of the employee population travel to and from work? What are the current risk factor levels for those who utilize public transportation?
  • What plans and protocols are we putting in place in the event that a team member tests positive for COVID (e.g., contact tracing, mandatory isolation, further tests)?


  • Will we make exemptions for individuals who fall into high-risk groups? If so, how will we protect their privacy and not inadvertently single them out?
  • Will we make exemptions for individuals who reside with high-risk groups, including unvaccinated children?
  • Will we make exemptions for our working parents in the case of school/childcare closures?
  • How will we ensure our people, especially folks in marginalized groups, feel truly empowered to prioritize their health and wellbeing over perceived commitment and benefits that come with being in the office vs. working remotely?


  • What tools, resources and support will we extend to help our employees cope with the change, fear, uncertainty and anxiety people might experience as a result of re-entry?
  • Have we considered the personal sacrifice team members might be forced to make by returning to the office at this time (e.g., foregoing seeing grandchildren, elderly parents or other at-risk friends or family members)?


  • Based on evidence, have our people been productive working from home during the pandemic?
  • How do our people feel about the state of our culture after so many months of not working together in person?
  • What benefits will we stand to gain by moving forward with our existing return-to-office plan? What do we stand to lose if we push the date out until the virus is in a controlled state?
  • Does the benefit of returning to face-to-face work at this time outweigh the risk of potentially spreading the virus further?

Looking for more information on returning to the office and vaccination guidance? Check out the newest sections in our COVID-19 Resource Center. For more bite-sized brilliance, subscribe to our monthly employee experience newsletter, the Inkwell, and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest!

Patty Rivas

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