Return to Office vs. Work from Home Risks

Business Resilience Risk 2023

Return To Office Vs. Work-From-Home Risks

More companies require employees to return to the office for two or more days, which makes me consider return to office vs. work-from-home risks. Business resilience professionals are crucial in ensuring an organization can withstand and recover from various disruptions, including employees working from home (WFH) or returning to the office (RTO). Firstly, understanding the risks associated with remote work is essential as it has become a prevalent trend in the modern workplace. Remote work can expose an organization to cybersecurity threats, data breaches, and potential leaks due to employees accessing sensitive information from unsecured networks or devices. Moreover, remote work can also impact employee productivity, work-life balance, and overall mental well-being, which could lead to increased absenteeism or decreased job satisfaction. By comprehending these risks, resilience professionals can devise strategies to mitigate vulnerabilities, strengthen cybersecurity measures, and promote employee well-being to ensure sustainable business operations.

On the other hand, even though COVID risk is reduced, returning to work in an office, resilience professionals must assess the risks of physical proximity and potential health hazards. The transition back to the office environment may raise concerns about contagious illnesses, especially in the context of future pandemics or seasonal outbreaks. Professionals need to implement safety protocols, such as maintaining physical distancing, considering personal protective equipment, and enhancing ventilation systems, to safeguard employee health and minimize the risk of infection spread within the workplace. Additionally, they must consider the impact of employee commutes, as public transportation or crowded office spaces could increase exposure to illnesses or other safety risks. Understanding these risks enables resilience professionals to develop comprehensive plans that prioritize employee health, maintain business continuity, and adapt to changing circumstances effectively.

Business Continuity Professional Risk Assessment

Risks To Business Resilience

For several reasons, employees returning to the office or working from home can pose risks to business resilience. Firstly, a sudden shift in work arrangements can disrupt established workflows and communication channels, potentially impacting productivity and collaboration. Businesses may struggle to maintain operational continuity and adapt to the changing dynamics, affecting their ability to respond effectively to unforeseen challenges. This goes against what they aim to achieve by returning more employees to in-person collaborative workspaces.

Secondly, health and safety concerns can arise in both scenarios. Employees returning to the office may face potential outbreaks of contagious illnesses, leading to increased absenteeism and reduced workforce capacity. Conversely, remote work may expose employees to ergonomic issues and social isolation, affecting their physical and mental well-being. These health-related risks can further strain business resilience, resulting in decreased employee engagement and hindering the organization’s ability to maintain a robust workforce during challenging times. To strengthen business resilience, companies must carefully evaluate the risks and benefits of each work arrangement, implement strong communication and technology strategies, and prioritize employee health and adaptability to ensure continuous operations in any circumstance.

Resilience and Risk Professionals Concerns

Business continuity, safety, real estate, and security professionals are concerned about the business risk of employees working from home or returning to the office due to these decisions’ multifaceted implications. When employees work from home, the primary concern is maintaining operational continuity and data security. If employees utilize unsecured networks or devices, remote setups may expose organizations to potential cybersecurity breaches and data leaks. Additionally, remote work can hinder collaboration and communication, impacting productivity and innovation. Safety professionals worry about employees’ home office ergonomics, as prolonged poor setups may lead to musculoskeletal issues and reduced well-being. Furthermore, business continuity professionals grapple with ensuring consistent processes and efficient workflows amid dispersed teams. 

On the other hand, returning to the office poses health risks, particularly during outbreaks of contagious diseases like COVID-19, potentially leading to employee absenteeism, decreased productivity, and increased operational disruptions. Real estate professionals are concerned about optimizing office spaces to adhere to social distancing norms and evolving work preferences, as unused or underutilized spaces result in wasted resources and increased costs. Moreover, security professionals must implement and manage safety protocols within the office premises to protect employees and assets, ensuring compliance with health and safety regulations. Balancing these concerns becomes crucial for successfully implementing hybrid work models and the overall well-being and efficiency of the workforce.

Assessing RTO vs. WFH Risk

Risk Understanding & Tactical Measures

If you have followed my blog for a while, you know I wrote about how, although COVID Is Over, we must be prepared for other health hazards. Additionally, we need to continue leveraging business continuity risk controls and building workforce resilience. Doing so will support the implementation of Organizational Resilience within your organization. Of course, there are additional support measures for Organizational Resilience.

Two key aspects are outlined below. To implement organizational resilience, consider adopting the following tactical measures:

  1. Diversify supply chains: Identify critical suppliers and establish alternative sources to reduce dependency on single suppliers and mitigate disruptions caused by natural disasters, geopolitical events, or supply chain disruptions.

  2. Cross-train employees: Develop a versatile workforce by providing employees with training and exposure to different roles within the organization, enabling them to step into key positions during emergencies or staff shortages, ensuring continuous operations.

By doing this, you minimize your overall risk and boost organizational resilience.

Return To Office Resilience

Return To The Office Risks

The risks associated with employees returning to the office to work versus continuing to work from home are subject to ongoing research and evolving circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You will see evidence pointing to the benefits and downsides of RTO, WFH, and Hybrid work arrangements. However, I can provide some general insights into the potential risks associated with both scenarios as outlined above:

Risks of Employees Returning to the Office to Work:

  1. Health and Safety Concerns: Offices can be potential breeding grounds for the spread of contagious illnesses, including COVID-19. Proximity and shared facilities can increase the risk of infections if proper precautions are not in place.

  2. Commute and Transportation: Employees commuting to the office face risks related to transportation, such as accidents, exposure to public transport, or increased traffic congestion.

  3. Mental Health Impact: Some employees may experience anxiety or stress due to the fear of infection or adapting to a changed work environment.

  4. Office-Specific Hazards: Office settings can have hazards related to ergonomics, indoor air quality, and general workplace safety, which could contribute to health issues.

  5. Costs and Time: Returning to the office might increase the financial burden for employees due to transportation costs and time spent commuting.

Work From Home Risks

Work From Home Risks

Many individual contributors, that is, employees without direct report responsibilities, indicate their preference to work remotely. However, managers prefer in-person interactions for training purposes. Additionally, executive leaders assert that innovation and collaboration are best performed in-office. That being said, resilience professionals can consider these risks as part of their planning activities. 

Risks of Employees Working from Home:

  1. Isolation and Loneliness: Working from home can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and disconnection from colleagues, which may affect overall well-being and job satisfaction.

  2. Work-Life Balance: Remote work can blur the lines between personal and professional life, leading to burnout and increased stress if not managed properly.

  3. Reduced Collaboration and Communication: Face-to-face interactions in the office can foster collaboration, creativity, and teamwork, which may suffer in remote work settings.

  4. Technology and Security: Working from home can present cybersecurity risks if employees use personal, unsecured devices or networks to access sensitive company information.

  5. Ergonomic Challenges: Improper home office setups may lead to musculoskeletal issues and physical discomfort over time.

Work From Home and Return To Office Risk Considerations

Considering Both Sides of Risk

As more business employees in service sectors return to increased time in-office, we must assess return to office vs. work from home risks. It’s essential to note that the risks and advantages of each option can vary based on the nature of the job, industry, and individual circumstances. Many organizations have adopted a hybrid model, combining office and remote work, to balance the benefits and risks of each approach. Yet, our preparedness activities should consider each from a potential crisis perspective. 

As the world and workplace dynamics evolve, employers must stay informed about the latest research and guidelines to create a safe and conducive work environment for their employees. Our role is to advise leaders on how their choices can help or hinder expected outcomes using the lens of a potential crisis or incident impact. Maintaining organizational resilience demands an operational approach that considers all aspects of risk across multiple disciplines. Indeed, our planning approach must adapt along with our workplace environments. Conducting our business as it was always done will expose our organizations to increased risk and blindside us to future catastrophes. 

Are there any potential risks that we might have overlooked? Any wild-card scenarios that keep you up at night? We want to hear it all – drop your thoughts in the comment section! 

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