At the time that I’m writing this post, half of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 40 percent are fully vaccinated. With things looking up, our LinkedIn feeds are already full of approaches, opinions, and plans about returning to the office and incentivizing employees to transition back from WFH to WFO.
As a CEO of a company with 17 employees, most of whom live within commuting distance to our Buffalo headquarters, I gave my next move weeks of careful consideration. My team’s safety and well-being are of paramount importance. At the same time, collaborative performance is crucial to our success and is best achieved when we’re working in-house – besides the fact that office mojo is a big part of our company culture, and we miss seeing each other daily. I wanted there to be personal ownership over how team members handle the transition back to an arrangement somewhat reminiscent of pre-COVID days.
I’ve gathered through company conversations this year that one of the biggest ways everyone will feel safer is if the team is vaccinated. However – and I can’t stress this point enough – every employee’s decision regarding the vaccine is a personal one and should be made without pressure. I also never want to create a culture where my employees feel forced to share personal information that they’re uncomfortable sharing. Out of this thought process my approach to vaccination was born; I am offering a $500 bonus to each employee who submits proof that they have been fully vaccinated. To me, that amount is enough of an incentive that it is worth my employees’ while without feeling financially manipulative.
Building on those efforts, I have also established a new flex policy regarding when each team member is in the office and when he or she is working from home. For one, this change will ensure that there is safe physical workspace for anyone who is working within the office on any given day. It will also help working parents and those with other home obligations to comfortably handle their responsibilities outside the workplace.
Finally, I made the decision to switch from 22 paid days off (plus nine federal holidays) to unlimited PTO for my company. I weighed this option against a new policy of one month paid, and the actual difference is in the spirit of how a team member feels in taking PTO. I am confident in my team to find their own balance of hard work and personal time. If they’re on top of their responsibilities and need time to recharge, have fun, make an appointment, whatever it may be – I trust them to have accountability and make the right decisions. Of course, there is a practical limit on how much time a person can and should reasonably take off to remain a highly engaged member of the team. Still, I acknowledge that I run companies made up of real people with individual motivations and workings and who take personal stock in the success of our business.
You might be wondering why I am sharing these decisions; it’s not to join in the chorus of discussions online about how to return to office best. For me it’s about showing leadership and forward thinking – something I am confident that my team will continue to do as we continue to move toward a post-COVID world.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).