While the summer began with reopening the Massachusetts economy, Roundtable members like many employers were asking lots of questions by mid-summer in light of the Delta variant. Roundtable staff began to hear from members, contemplating the most appropriate plan to return to the office or revisit vaccination and masking policies. By August 2021, members reported pushing back return-to-office dates, in many cases indefinitely, and managing office plans became the top issue raised in conversation with Roundtable members. In response to member feedback, the Roundtable’s Open Forum series relaunched for Fall 2021 on Wednesday, September 8 with a conversation on vaccinations and back-to-office policies, featuring a public health update on the pandemic.

Dr. Tom Koutsavlis, the Head of US Medical Office from Roundtable member Takeda Pharmaceuticals, provided a snapshot of the COVID-19 pandemic and explained how the increased infectiousness of the Delta variant requires multiple layers of protection. Dr. Koustavlis encouraged employers to prioritize flexibility in their planning and indicated that the pandemic will continue to ebb and flow over a timeline of years.

Roundtable members shared their vaccination policies and return-to-office plans, which highlighted a range of approaches to ensuring office safety. Although members had varying approaches to vaccination mandates, nearly all reported incorporating several measures such as mask requirements, testing, and restrictions around travel, regardless of vaccination mandates. Many members delayed or adjusted their return-to-office plans, while nearly all reported the adoption of a hybrid office. The discussion also reflected how the COVID-19 response intersects with other workforce challenges, including a competition for talent.

The Open Forum discussion highlighted the shared challenges facing employers around managing the COVID-19 response and ensuring office safety, as well as the nuances facing different industries implementing new guidelines over the course of the pandemic. As members came together, one thing was also clear – we are all in this together and business leaders can continue to learn from each other as we navigate through these challenges and new norms.