May 05, 2021

POV: The Balance—When to Return to the Office?

Like many of you, I am consistently fielding questions about the physicality of UNA operations and events and what our plans are for remote work now and in the future.

As a leader, I am trying to balance my own personal comfortability with in-person engagements alongside my organization’s goals and objectives. And let me tell you–I am not having an easy time with it. I recognize that so many of us are in different situations and it is a complex issue. Many of our missions don’t allow for remote work as we serve the community. There are some who feel like remote work just doesn’t work for team cohesion. And there are others that prefer remote work now that they’ve experienced it for over a year.  

I am following three major factors: 

  • According to experts, eradication of a virus happens when a community reaches herd immunity. According to experts, herd immunity happens when over 80% of the population is vaccinated.  
  • Our economy has taken a hit with businesses shutting down or limiting hours which inevitably impacts jobs. And when people’s incomes are impacted it has a negative domino effect into charitable giving, stability, spending, etc.  
  • It is abundantly clear that the expert assessments are not meshing with the public’s wider desire to return to a pre-COVID normal.  

As I assess where UNA is, and where we will be in the summer and fall, I harken back to what the experts are saying. I try to relinquish my own personal feelings about how difficult it has been to be isolated and think more broadly about the impact my decisions, as a leader, have on my staff and the nonprofits we serve. At present here in Utah, vaccinations have plateaued, approximately a quarter of our population are youth (who are not eligible for the vaccine), and we have only fully vaccinated about 40% of eligible people. Reconciling that data with the above herd immunity threshold it is clear that we are far from a time where we can count COVID-19 gone in Utah. 

That means, that on a practical basis, and regardless of how you feel about it, as we reopen and begin to gather in person for professional or personal business, we should all be clear that we, as a state, country, and global community, will be living with COVID-19 for some time. This may mean that our futures may contain restrictions similar to those of summer 2020, that more people may become infected, and that more will die. All we have to do is tune into what is happening in India to get an example (albeit on a very large scale) of what could happen.  

Another component that I hadn’t expected personally (and I am an introvert) is the anxiety I would feel even when I am outside my home as a fully vaccinated person. And as I chat with others in my life, family, friends, staff, neighbors, nonprofit leaders, etc., I know that I am not alone in those anxieties. So, we now have a perfect storm of lack of herd immunity, reluctance to get the vaccine, desire to reopen our economy, and dealing with the trauma of the past 13 months. All of that bubbles inside of me as I work to make the best decisions for my team and the nonprofits we serve.  

As a nonprofit leader, I am fortunate and incredibly privileged that UNA has a business model where remote delivery is possible and we have even thrived in these circumstances. So the decision to remain remote well into 2021 hasn’t negatively impacted our bottom line. I sympathize with many of you who are trying to weigh all the factors, who are working through your own anxieties and frustrations with this situation, and who are making some very difficult decisions. I welcome a dialogue with anyone struggling with some of these decisions. I know it’s not been easy and I know we all make decisions that not everyone is pleased with. Email me and we can connect – krubalcava@utahnonprofits.org