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say hello to the office again, fingers crossed

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say hello to the office again, fingers crossed

Executives at investment firm TIAA are particularly proud of one aspect of their back-to-work plans: The company is in its second round of determining a return-to-office date. He was previously expected to bring back employees in January, but was derailed by the Omicron version. Now the firm is targeting March 7.

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

And Mr. Woodroffe is approaching this new return-to-office date with optimism, he explained, sitting at his desk in front of a dazzling cityscape that he describes as the bustling “vibe” of midtown Manhattan. Was. After all, the firm has a 98 percent COVID-19 vaccination rate, staff has been supplied with at-home testing supplies and the line at Third Avenue Wendy’s is getting longer at lunchtime.

“With Omicron we realized that we needed to think about getting back into the office when Covid disappeared,” he said. “We recognized that we have to look at how you deal with COVID responsibly?”

The two-year mark is approaching since many US businesses have sent their office workers home, and some antsy executives have delivered a long-delayed message: Return-to-office plans are real this time (fingers crossed) done). Managers are hanging welcome balloons and confidently flicking the monitors. Coronavirus tests are widely available, including those provided by some employers. Many businesses are aware that most of their employees have been vaccinated. Many workers have recovered from Omicron and are resuming indoor social activities.

Executives are entering the next area of ​​return-to-office planning, which psychologists call “stress-related development.” They have endured a continuous period of upheaval. They are feeling hopeful, armed with new insights into how to respond when COVID cases rise and how to keep workers safe when businesses are open: by encouraging testing and enforcing vaccine regulations.

“There’s a very strong feeling that we’re coming out the other side,” said Keith McFall, chief operating officer of Oklahoma City-based staffing provider Express Employment Professionals. A phased reopening that began in July and then delayed the return to January.

And there’s almost a sense of glee among some managers as their RTO plans to cement: “It was like back-to-school week, quite frankly,” said Chris Glennon, vice president of global real estate and workplace at Intuit. Said, who visited the company’s San Francisco office last week. Intuit fully reopened its offices on a voluntary basis on January 18 and continues to weigh the time for a necessary return.

Mr. Glennon noted that the company’s consulting physician recently started a 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 said.

American Express told employees they would be encouraged to return to the New York office on March 1, followed by a wider return on March 15. Meta, formerly Facebook, is launching its hybrid return to office on March 28. Microsoft said that beginning on February 28, workers would have 30 days to chalk out work preferences with their managers, with the expectation that most would be able to work half-time from home, and Ford Motor said in April. Said it will adopt a hybrid work schedule, where multiple employees can be partly in-person and partly remote. This week, the Wall Street Journal’s parent company announced a flexible approach to RTO, and the Washington Post said this month that employees would need to return in March.

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The New York Times on Thursday announced a gradual return to the office plan, which encourages employees to occasionally return to the office starting April 4 and adopts a combination of personal and remote work starting June 6. is expected. Employees with circumstances that make this withdrawal challenging – for example, those who have children under the age of 5 who cannot get vaccinated – can work with their managers to find an appropriate time to start hybrid work.

Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase called employees back on February 1, and Citigroup said this week that their vaccinated US employees would return to the office at least two days per week from March 21, if they haven’t yet. Needed. BNY Mellon broke with its Wall Street peers in introducing more flexible working arrangements. Chevron, which delayed his return to office in January, required Houston employees to return on February 14. Some employers, such as TIAA, explicitly acknowledged that they may have to adjust their policies in the case of a new version.

“This is the fourth call to arms,” ​​said Katherine Wylde, head of the New York City Partnership. Some had postponed plans due to the Delta and Omicron variants of the coronavirus.

“They recognize that the longer people have been working remotely, the harder it will be to get them back into the office,” Ms Wyld said.

Office occupancy is on the rise across the country after a drop in January: it averaged 31 percent of pre-Covid levels in 10 major cities this month, up from 23 percent in early January and 40 percent from the pandemic’s peak was down. According to security firm Castle Systems, in the first week of December. A report last month from Partnership for New York City found that most employers surveyed exceeded 50 percent of the expected daily attendance at their offices on an average workday by the end of March.

But non-professional indoor activities, including food and entertainment, have picked up more quickly, with leading officials speculating that the barriers to getting their employees back may not just be related to health and safety. (Morgan Stanley’s chief executive, James Gorman, expressed this dismay last summer by announcing that if workers could go out to eat, they could go to the office.)

“It’s about overcoming the inertia that has built up over the years,” said Mark Ein, president of Kastel Systems. “It’s going to be a very, very long time before you return to the office at the same level you’ve seen a return to in other parts of life.”

Some employers are also proceeding with caution after the havoc that Omicron played with on hopes of a January office reopening.

In the meta, employees have until March 14 to decide whether they want to go back to the office or request work from home permanently or temporarily for three to five months. META requires that anyone entering the office be vaccinated and wearing a mask, and for those who are eligible, booster vaccination shots are required starting March 28.

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Jefferies, an investment bank, relaunched its hybrid return-to-office plan on February 1 after a December pause, asking people to work with their managers to determine how many days they should should come in The office has recently almost reached its pre-Covid days, a spokesperson said. The firm requires everyone to be fully vaccinated and receive a booster upon entering the office, and it mandates masks in common areas. All employees were recently sent 20 rapid antigen tests.

“Bounce in your stride and walk with a smile on your face, but don’t run away,” the firm’s president, Brian Friedman, and chief executive, Rich Handler, wrote last month outlining plans to reopen the office. “Hopefully, conditions continue to improve and we can all run together again.”

For workers struggling to prepare for the office — especially those with caregiving responsibilities or children too young to be vaccinated — the sprint feels premature. And many employers realize that without giving people the freedom to decide where they work, they can lose out on the talents of their competitors who do.

BNY Mellon, which has about 50,000 employees worldwide, is allowing managers to determine which days employees will be in the office, a less rigid approach than many of its finance peers. The bank’s head of human resources, Jolene Anderson, said the bank is trying to be sympathetic to the needs of its employees and differentiate itself from other potential employers.

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

A lot of big employers are now looking at each other and waiting for critical mass before rolling out RTO plans, said Kastle’s Mr. Ein, who has seen significant reductions in office occupancy as Omicron is down and the weather warms. growth was predicted. For example, Google hasn’t announced new return dates for its offices because it has postponed its January plans.

Still, the month brought with it the beginning of reopenings, which included a welcoming gesture of pre-Covid déj vu for office enthusiasts. On the first Monday in February, Mr. McFall of Express Employment Professionals woke up at 6:30 a.m., wearing a sports coat and flying classic rock, to his office for 30 minutes. Looks like the old days.

He met new employees whom he had once spoken to on Zoom. The floors buzzed as people were greeting each other and taking advantage of free nuts and energy bars.

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

Katie Robertson And lanan nguyen Contributed to reporting.

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