From Pandemic to Endemic: Revisiting Changes Due to COVID-19

February 23, 2022
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​As COVID-19 cases fall around the country, company leaders are ready to shift from managing the crises of a pandemic to adapting to the ongoing challenges of an endemic infection, according to a recent PwC survey. In addition, CEOs are turning their attention to areas other than COVID-19, such as building trust with employees while they strive to fill vacant positions, increasing the use of automation, and capitalizing on mergers and acquisitions.

A "pandemic" is a "global epidemic … that has spread over several countries or continents affecting a large number of people," according to the Mayo Clinic website. An "endemic" infection refers to an "infection within a geographical location that is existing perpetually."

"As I understand it, when people say COVID-19 should be treated as endemic, they are advocating for treating COVID as equivalent to the flu," said Robin Shea, an attorney with Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete in Winston-Salem, N.C. "The flu is always with us, and we take precautions as we see fit—for example, getting annual flu shots—but otherwise live with it. In other words, what they are really advocating is getting back to normal."

Shea added, "It should be noted that endemic does not mean nonserious. As many medical authorities have noted, malaria is endemic to certain regions of the world, but it is still a very serious—and often fatal—disease."

Jonathan A. Segal, an attorney with Duane Morris in Philadelphia and New York City, cautioned employers not to rush to declare the pandemic over prematurely, despite the lower number of cases in the U.S.

"Employers need to gradually, thoughtfully and flexibly enter this new stage—the last phase, hopefully, of the pandemic," Segal said. "Don't expect your employees just to snap out of it."

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Coronavirus and COVID-19

Survey Results

In a January survey of 678 U.S. executives, PwC found employers had made the following changes related to the pandemic and subsequent talent shortage:

Hybrid Work

  • 43 percent offered hybrid work options for employees and will keep them.
  • 34 percent had implemented such options but will revisit them.
  • 18 percent were considering revisiting the options but had made no final decision.

Remote Work

  • 30 percent had made remote work a permanent option for some roles and will continue to do so.
  • 28 percent had implemented such an option but will revisit it.
  • 22 percent were considering revisiting this option but had made no final decision.

Employee Relocation

  • 23 percent had allowed employees to permanently relocate outside a core office location.
  • 27 percent had implemented this change but will revisit it.
  • 22 percent were considering revisiting it but had made no final decision.

Outsourcing

  • 20 percent relied more on outsourcing.
  • 29 percent had implemented this change but will revisit it.
  • 22 percent were considering revisiting it but had made no final decision.

"The change that's sticking in more companies: new ways of working that allow for greater flexibility," PwC's survey found. "Changing processes to reduce reliance on employees, allowing permanent relocation outside of corporate offices and outsourcing are all part of the mix to address labor shortages."

That said, "despite the relative success of remote teamwork platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, certain interactions—informal idea exchanges, social interactions and developmental interactions—appear to work better in person," stated Mark Keenan, an attorney with Barnes & Thornburg in Atlanta. "All of these are important to the organization's culture."

More Expenses in 2022

"There will be more expenses in 2022, because as companies come back as we move from a pandemic to an endemic—which 70 percent of the CEOs that we surveyed are expecting that that's where we will go in 2022—that means people will be" more active, said Tim Ryan, PwC's U.S. chairman and senior partner in New York City, on a Jan. 27 media call.

People will travel more; get together more; train, build and rebuild culture, "and that will drive some expense increase in 2022," he said.

'The Four T's'

"There are probably four topics that are on the CEOs' minds that we're dealing with, and I call them the four T's," Ryan said.

"The first one is talent. It is on everyone's mind. It doesn't just deal with the increased turnover that many companies are dealing with," he said. "It also goes to rebuilding culture as companies come back to work."

He noted that companies also are focusing on transactions. Companies are strategically looking at their portfolios and asking, "Where can we be No. 1 or No. 2? Where maybe can the portfolio be simplified in order to either meet investor needs, create capital [or] find ways to fund other investment?" He expected it to be a very good year of merger-and-acquisition activity as companies continue to reshape their businesses.

"The next T is transition," Ryan continued. "Digital transformation is necessary not only to manage costs and offset inflation with automation, artificial intelligence and other elements leveraging technology, but it's also critical to get good long-term, sustainable growth and to fend off competitors in what is likely to be a very hypercompetitive environment." Climate transition is significant as well, as companies invest in their strategy to do their part from an environmental perspective, he added.

"That brings me to my last T, which is what we call trust," Ryan said. "The bar on trust continues to rise with our executives—how they treat their employees—and so the topic of trust and trust building and creating trust as an asset is very much on the minds of CEOs." 

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Employers have until July 31 to update the I-9s of current employees who presented an expired List B documents under the COVID-19 Temporary Policy for List B Identity Documents.

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