NEW YORK (AP) – Last year, companies across the United States scrambled to find a way to shut down their offices and configure their employees for remote work as the COVID-19 virus suddenly swept through the world.
Now, in a mirror image, they are scrambling to find a way to bring back many of these employees.
Most companies are proceeding with caution, trying to deal with the drop in COVID-19 infections against a potential backlash from workers who are not ready to return.
Tensions have spread among the public in a few companies where some staff have organized petitions or even walkouts to protest the recall to the office. Many workers in high-demand fields, such as technology or customer service, have options amid an increase in job postings promising ‘remote work’ – an alluring prospect for people who have moved in. the pandemic to be closer to their families or in search of more affordable cities.
âA lot of people have moved and don’t want to come back,â said Chris Riccobono, CEO of Untuckit LLC, a men’s casual wear company. “There is a lot of crazy stuff that is a big deal on a daily basis.”
Riccobono said he looks forward to bringing his 100 company employees back to the Soho neighborhood office in Manhattan because he believes productivity and morale are higher that way. Starting in September, the company will require these employees to show up to the office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in the hopes that the flexibility of a âhybridâ schedule will satisfy everyone.
Many others similarly introduce a gradual return. Companies like Amazon and automakers Ford and General Motors have vowed to take a permanently hybrid approach to their office workers, responding to internal and public surveys showing an overwhelming preference for work-from-home options.
But implementing a hybrid workplace can be a headache, from identifying the most suitable roles for remote working, to deciding which days of the week employees should be in the office. There are client appointments to consider. And some business leaders argue that new hires need more time around when they start their careers or start in the company.
âThursday is the New Monday,â Salesforce Says, a San Francisco-based tech company, which found Thursday to be the most popular day for employees to show up to the office when the company reopened its Sydney offices in August.
Riccobono, meanwhile, insists employees show up on Mondays to get organized and set the tone for the week. Like many employers, however, he recognizes that he’s always figuring things out as he navigates uncharted territory.
âWe will be back in January,â he said. “We’ll see how it works.”
Across the country, office buildings in America’s top 10 cities had an average occupancy rate of around 32% at the end of June, according to estimates by Kastle Systems. a security company that monitors the erasure of access cards in some 2,600 buildings. In Manhattan, just 12% of office workers had returned by the end of May, according to the latest survey from the Partnership for New York City, a non-profit organization of top business leaders and employers.
Romina Rugova, an executive at fashion label Mansur Gavriel, enjoyed the tranquility as she sat on a bench by a riverside in lower Manhattan after a rare day back at the office for a meeting with the new head of e-commerce for the company.
A mother of two, Rugova had mixed feelings about returning to the office. Seeing coworkers in person after so long was invigorating, and she didn’t always like to muddle her family and work life.
âThe challenge is that you have to be three people at the same time. You have to be a professional, you have to be a cook, you have to be a cleaner, you have to be a mom, âRugova said. âBeing in the office after a while was so refreshing and enjoyable. It’s a whole different experience, you don’t realize it.
But she doesn’t want to completely forgo the three extra hours she saves without travel. Many of his colleagues feel the same way, so Mansur Gavriel will likely implement a flexible policy when most of his 40 employees return to the office after Labor Day.
“We are still in the process of determining that,” Rugova said.
While most employers will speed up their return-to-work plans over the summer, nearly 40% of office workers will still work remotely in September, according to the New York City Partnership survey.
The trend has raised concerns about an uneven economic recovery, as remote working is an option accessible to the privileged few. Only about 15% of workers telecommuted due to the pandemic in June, according to the US Department of Labor’s monthly employment report. Most work in restaurants, schools, hospitals, factories and other places that require them to show up in person.
Some of the big investment banks, which are the best employers and tenants of office space in New York City, are leading the campaign to bring back employees, taking a tough approach against tech giants who have set up generous remote work policies.
Morgan stanley CEO James Gorman told a conference earlier this month that he would be “very disappointed if people hadn’t found their way into the office” before Labor Day.
âIf you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can walk into the office,â Gorman said, although he recognized there should be flexibility for parents who still struggle with day care logistics. children who collapsed during the pandemic.
Gorman also made it clear that he was not open to the âwork from anywhereâ mentality that some companies have embraced, saying employees who want to earn a salary in New York City should work in the city. The CEOs of JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs made similar comments, sparking a furious debate over whether they would push employees out of doors.
It remains to be seen to what extent remote work policies will influence recruitment and retention. But professionals looking for flexibility find they have options.
Brecia Young, a data analytics scientist and mother of a 1-year-old, had choices when looking to change jobs at a small Chicago business. She accepted an offer from Seattle-based real estate company Zillow in part because the company allowed her to work from home and stay in Chicago, where she and her husband have relatives to help with childcare.
âMoving to the West Coast was on the table, but it would have been a real ordeal,â Young said, adding that her husband should have looked for a new job as well. âI like the time savings just in terms of the journey. It’s like 90 minutes of saved time that I can reuse.
Associated Press writer Anne D’Innocenzio contributed to this New York story.