Say hello again to the office, fingers crossed

Investment firm TIAA executives are particularly proud of one aspect of their reopening plans: The company is only in the second round of setting a return date. First, they hoped to bring back staff in January, but were derailed by the Omicron variant. Now the company is targeting March 7.

“We noticed other employers saying, ‘We’ll be back in April.’ ‘We’ll be back in June.’ But we said we needed some certainty,” said Sean Woodroffe, head of human resources for TIAA, which has 12,000 US employees. “This March 7th is only the second time we’ve announced our date.”

And Mr Woodroffe is facing his return to this new office with optimism, he explained, sitting at his desk in front of a glittering city view, aloft what he describes as a bustling “vibe”. of Midtown Manhattan. After all, the company has a Covid-19 vaccination rate of 98%, employees have been provided with home tests, and the line at Wendy’s 3rd Avenue has inched longer during lunchtime.

“With Omicron, we realized we needed to get away from thinking about going back to the office when Covid was gone,” he said. “We realized we had to revolve around how do you deal with Covid in a responsible way?”

Marking two years since many American businesses sent their office workers back home is approaching, and some ant executives have delivered a long-delayed message: Plans to return Back to the office this time is real. Managers are hanging welcome balloons and sweeping screens with a sense of confidence. Tests for coronavirus are widely available, including some provided by the employer. Many businesses know that the majority of their employees are vaccinated. Many workers have recovered from Omicron and are continuing social activities indoors.

Executives are entering the next area of ​​back-office planning with what psychologists call “stress-related growth.” They endured a long period of turmoil. They are emerging with a sense of hope, armed with new insights into how to respond as Covid cases rise and how to keep workers safe while businesses are open: by encouraging experimentation. test and impose vaccine rules.

“There is a very strong feeling that we are about to reopen our offices on February 7th,” said Keith McFall, chief executive officer of Oklahoma City-based HR services provider Express Employment Professionals. after re-scaling. The phased reopening began in July and then delayed the expected return to January.

And some managers feel almost delighted when their RTO plans cement: “It’s like a back-to-school week, frankly,” said Chris Glennon, vice president of global and local real estate. of Intuit, who visited the company’s San Francisco office last week. Intuit fully reopened its offices on a voluntary basis on January 18 and is continuing to weigh the timing of the required return.

Mr. Glennon noted that the company’s consultant physician recently started the call by saying he had nothing but good news to share.

“I said, ‘Hallelujah, this is the first time we’ve been able to say that,’” he added.

American Express told employees they would be encouraged to return to its New York office starting March 1, followed by a broader return on March 15. Meta, formerly Facebook, will begin head back to the office on March 28. Microsoft said that starting on February 28, workers will have 30 days to apply work incentives with their managers, with the expectation that most will be able to work from home during the halving, and Ford Motor said in April that it would adopt a hybrid work program where many employees can be partly in-person and partly remotely. . This week, The Wall Street JournalThe company’s parent company has announced a flexible approach to RTOs, and the Washington Post reported this month that employees will be asked to return in March.

The New York Times on Thursday announced plans to gradually return to the office, in which employees are encouraged to return to the office from time to time starting April 4, and a combination is expected to apply. in-person and remote working starting June 6. Employees whose circumstances make this Return challenging – for example, those with children under 5 who cannot be immunized – can do so. Work with their manager to find an opportune time to start hybrid work.

Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase called staff back on February 1, and Citigroup said this week that vaccinated US employees should return to the office at least two days a week, starting on May 21. 3, if they have not gone on. BNY Mellon broke Wall Street peers by introducing a flexible Job priority. Chevron, which delayed returning to the office in January, requires Houston workers to return by February 14. Some employers, like TIAA, frankly admit that in the event there is a turn new bodies, they may have to adjust their policies.

“This is the fourth call for arms, adding that she recently met with a group of executives eager to meet,” said Kathryn Wylde, head of New York City Partnerships, a business group. workers back. Some have postponed plans because of Delta and Omicron variants of the coronavirus.

“They realize that the longer people work remotely, the harder it is to get them back into the office,” Ms. Wylde said.

Office occupancy rates across the country are picking up after January’s drop: It’s averaging 31% of pre-Covid levels across 10 major cities this month, up from 23% in early January and down from a pandemic peak of 40% in the first week of December, according to security firm Kastle Systems. ONE report Last month from the Partnership for New York City found that the majority of employers surveyed expect their office daily attendance rates to exceed 50% on an average weekday in Last March.

But non-professional in-house activities have taken off more rapidly, including dining and entertainment, leading executives to guess that the barriers to bringing their employees back may not only involve to health and safety. (Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman made this frustration clear last summer, declare that if workers can go out to eat, they can go to the office.)

“It’s about overcoming inertia that has built up over several years,” said Mark Ein, president of Kastle Systems. “It will be a long time before you find yourself returning to the office to the same extent as you have seen returning to other parts of life.”

Some employers are also proceeding cautiously after the devastation Omicron has caused with expectations for office reopening in January.

At Meta, employees have until March 14 to decide if they want to return to the office or ask to work from home permanently or temporarily for three to five months. Meta requires that anyone entering the office be vaccinated and wear a mask, and booster shots will be required starting March 28 for those who qualify.

Jefferies, an investment bank, restarted plans to return to its combined offices on February 1 after a pause in December, asking people to work with their managers to determine see how many days they should go to work. The office recently came close to reaching its pre-Covid point, a spokeswoman said capacity was on the busiest days. The company requires everyone to be fully vaccinated and has been vaccinated again to enter the office and is required to wear a mask in common areas. All staff were recently sent 20 rapid antigen tests.

The company’s president, Brian Friedman, and chief executive officer, Rich Handler, wrote in outlining plans to reopen the office last month. “Hopefully the situation will continue to improve and we will all sprint together again.”

For workers who are struggling to get ready for the office – especially those with caregiving responsibilities or children too young to be vaccinated – the sprint can feel premature. And many employers realize that if they don’t give people time to decide where they work, they could lose talent to competitors.

BNY Mellon, which has nearly 50,000 employees worldwide, is allowing managers to determine the days employees will be in the office, a less rigid approach than many of its finance peers. Jolen Anderson, the bank’s head of human resources, said the bank was trying to empathize with what employees need and set itself apart from other potential employers.

“You can’t undo the experience we’ve had together, and you can’t undo some of the benefits people have said about people’s ability to work remotely,” Ms. Anderson said. . “It would be a pity not to consider those things when we design future work models.”

Mr. Ein of Kastle, who has predicted a significant increase in office occupancy as Omicron weakens and the weather warms. For example, Google hasn’t announced a new return date for its offices because it postponed the plan to January.

This month, however, has begun to reopen, which for office enthusiasts includes the welcoming feeling of pre-Covid déjà vu. On the first Monday in February, Mr McFall of Express Employment Professionals wakes up at 6:30 a.m., puts on his sports jacket and drives 30 minutes to his office, playing classical rock. It feels like the old days.

He met new employees he had only talked to on Zoom. The floors buzz as people greet each other and take advantage of the free nuts and energy bars.

“You slowly work your way up,” Mr. McFall reflects. “There’s a very high level of optimism that we’re getting through this.”

Katie Robertson and Lananh Nguyen contribution report. Say hello again to the office, fingers crossed

Fry Electronics Team

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