Heading back to the office: Are Alaskans ready?

Growing cases of the delta variant add confusion to transition plans
Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 8:31 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Improperly muted microphones and countless interruptions by curious children and attention-getting pets. It’s what workers became accustomed to during this virtual meeting shift and the COVID-19 pandemic’s work-from-home challenges.

It’s a whole new world for those used to a clear-cut line between an office and home setting. At times it could be blurry while merging both worlds during an already challenging time of a pandemic.

Up until just a few weeks ago, most businesses were planning to revert back to on-site work.

“Right now the delta variant is a complete game changer because it has hospitalizations up it has infection rates up and now people who have been vaccinated have to worry about people who are unvaccinated being in the workplace,” said Lynne Curry, president of Communication Works Inc. in Alaska.

Curry is referred to as a workplace coach. She is also an author dealing with employment issues and now seeing the struggles businesses and their workers are going through in this back-to-the office dilemma.

“Vaccinated employees are not wanting to work with unvaccinated employees — unvaccinated employees are feeling like they are being blamed”, Curry said.

In fact, she says she has three new complaint cases right now in her inbox, along with multiple other pandemic related complaints between businesses and their employees.

This all comes at a time when businesses are deciding whether to keep workers at home, bring them back to the office, or provide a hybrid model.

“And my bottom line was the reward of being together is great, but the risk is greater,” said Karen King, president and CEO of Spawn Ideas, another Alaska company.

Last month the company decided to bring employees back to the office as part of a hybrid plan, but that lasted just two weeks after a significant increase in the delta variant.

“As an agency we’ve always believed that it’s really healthy to get comfortable with being uncomfortable with change, because change happens so rapidly,” King said. “With that said, we could have never anticipated what happened over this pandemic.”

At the same time, King and Curry both said, this pandemic has also opened up new options for the workplace and that a hybrid work model, for some, is here to stay.

Spawn employee Amy Adams agrees.

“I think this hybrid work model allows for the best of both worlds,” the mother of two said. “I think it definitely opened the door to a better work-life balance and just realizing a better work-life balance is out there.”

Besides considering a permanent hybrid schedule, Curry has some other tips on how to make that transition, when it does happen, a bit easier for employee and employer.

Curry said to make sure you clearly communicate any changes with employees, make sure they feel safe and always keep track of the ever-changing guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the regulations of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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