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Most employers are eyeing 'hybrid model' for return to work amid pandemic - Littler survey

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Alexander Caiafas, a 25 year-old data analyst, is seen working through a window into his home in Ikoyi, as authorities around the world impose various guidelines on lockdowns and social distancing to curb the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Lagos, Nigeria May 25, 2020. When asked, what will you miss most about being in lockdown? Alexander replied: ' Spending quality time with relatives and parents because you know, thatÕs often hard to do. Secondly, I would say I miss speaking over the phone to close friends like on FaceTime, HouseParty, Zoom, all those kinds of applications'. Picture taken May 25, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja - RC2LXG98YSTW

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(Reuters) - The vast majority of employers believe their employees do not want to return to in-person work as offices reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and most are planning to implement a hybrid model allowing remote work some of the time, according to a survey released by Littler Mendelson on Wednesday.

The survey of 1,160 executives and in-house counsel, which was conducted in March, found that only 4% believed their employees want to be back in the office, and 71% said most of their workers would prefer a hybrid model over full-time in-person work.

The firm said the numbers highlight the unique set of challenges associated with hybrid working models, including scheduling obstacles and physical changes to offices to maintain social distancing. More than half of those surveyed said their companies are redesigning office layouts, and 31% are considering implementing "office hoteling," where employees reserve desks for the day to help companies save space and facilitate flexible work schedules.

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About three-quarters of the respondents in the survey, which involved companies of various sizes, expressed concerns about workforce management issues that could be triggered by a hybrid model, such as remote workers feeling left out or being passed over for opportunities.

Addressing that tension raises various legal and practical considerations, including how to accommodate workers who are leery of returning to the office because they have medical issues, childcare obligations or lack access to transportation, said Devjani Mishra, a leader of Littler’s COVID-19 Task Force and Return-to-Work Team.

“Employers are eager to bring their teams back together in person but are hearing from employees and applicants who value the option to work remotely and feel they have shown they can be productive while doing so,” said Mishra, who is based in New York.

And with many employees set to return to in-person work by the fall, companies are now facing the thorny issue of whether to ask workers to disclose whether they have been vaccinated. Littler found that 41% of respondents planned to do so, while 32% would not and the remainder were uncertain.

Businesses are also carefully monitoring the rapid pace of legislative change, particularly at the state and local level, as a result of the pandemic, Littler found.

More than 80% of respondents said they were concerned about how changes to paid-leave requirements will impact their companies over the next year. A smaller number - but still more than half - said they expected an impact from legislation designed to address income inequality, inclusion and diversity, and healthcare.

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