Epistemix teamed up with Health Preparedness Partners to complete a prospective, scenario-driven study quantifying the impact of different vaccine policies on the return to the office across ten major American cities.
The results show how managers can increase productivity, decrease healthcare costs, and mitigate the risks associated with bringing employees back.
In spring of 2020, the pandemic shut down offices across the country and fundamentally changed the way we work together. Organizations had no choice but to adapt. Now that COVID-19 disease levels are declining overall, stay-at-home orders have been lifted, vaccination levels are increasing, and employee working preferences have shifted, organizations need to adapt again. Decisions must be made about when to return to the office and what policies should be implemented to protect the workforce and the business. Crafting a return to office plan that maximizes productivity and ensures employee health is an unprecedented challenge, but businesses have more control than they realize. Over the course of the pandemic, operations, human resources, and enterprise risk managers lacked a common playbook to guide decisions. Most organizations sought out best practices by sifting through information from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, their local health authorities, and, occasionally, consulting epidemiologists. To decide when employees can safely return to the office, organizations must consider a variety of evolving factors: local policies, the level of pandemic spread in the community, employee willingness to return, business realities, status of workplace physical adaptations, and issues related to the commute and other community factors.1 Once a decision about when to return is made, the next problem is how to execute the return, particularly the company’s vaccination policy. Company vaccination policies should harmonize with the culture of the company. Two key metrics should guide decisions about how to execute the return: vaccination coverage in the cities where offices are located and employee vaccination rates. Using those two metrics as guideposts, organizations can use science-backed strategies to safely bring employees back to the office and address the challenges of managing productivity, health costs, and risks to business continuity. Vaccines are a proven solution to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations2 so organizations can safely have employees return to the workplace. Workplace policies should depend on whether employees are or are not fully vaccinated before they return to the office. Health Preparedness Partners, a consulting firm that helps organizations in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, worked with Epistemix to quantify the impact of different vaccine policies upon the return to the office. Insights from the study can empower leaders to manage risks that are within their control. The study simulated the impact of various employee vaccination policies on productivity and health costs in ten cities within the United States where the percentage of adults that are fully vaccinated as of the first week in July ranged from 39% in Atlanta, Georgia to 71% in Hartford, Connecticut. The selected cities represent different geographies, individual behaviors, demographics, and vaccination coverage to show regional differences across the country. In each of the cities, a hypothetical workplace of 1,000 employees was simulated and three workplace vaccination policies3 were tested:
The simulations were run from June 1 through December 31, 2021 and accounted for protection afforded by previous COVID-19 infections and vaccination coverage in the counties where the cities are located. The study assumed that businesses would open their offices on August 16, 2021 and each of the cities would have lifted all mask requirements, social distancing, and capacity restrictions by the same date. The scenarios in which the workforce was not fully vaccinated also considered the impact of unvaccinated employees wearing or not wearing masks in the workplace.