NEW YORK – Last year, companies across the US scrambled to figure out how to close their offices and set up their employees for remote work as the COVID-19 virus suddenly took hold of the world.
Now, in a mirror image, they are scrambling to figure out how to bring back many of those employees.
Most companies are proceeding cautiously, trying to navigate dwindling COVID-19 infections against a possible backlash by workers who are unwilling to return.
Public tension has spread at some companies, with some employees holding petitions or walkouts to protest being recalled to the office. Many workers in high-demand areas, such as tech or customer service, have a choice between a surge in job postings promising “remote work” – an attractive prospect for those who are close or more likely to be close to family during the pandemic. Went in search of affordable cities.
“Many people have relocated and don’t want to come back,” said Chris Ricobono, CEO of Untkit LLC, a casual men’s clothing company. “There’s a lot of crazy stuff that’s a big pain point from day to day.”
Ricobono said he can’t wait to get 100 of his corporate employees back into office in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood because he believes productivity and morale are higher that way. Starting in September, the company will require those employees to report to the office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, in hopes that the flexibility of the “hybrid” schedule will keep everyone happy.
Similarly, many others are also slowly beginning to make a comeback. Companies such as Amazon and automakers Ford and General Motors have pledged to adopt a hybrid approach to their office workers in a sustainable way, responding to internal and public surveys showing a heavy preference for work-from-home options. .
But implementing a hybrid workplace can be a headache, from identifying which roles are best suited for remote work to deciding which days of the week employees need to be in the office. There are client meetings to consider. And some business leaders argue that new employees need more face-time as they begin their careers or start fresh at the company.
According to “Thursday is the new Monday,” sales force, a San Francisco-based technology firm, which found that Thursday was the most popular day for employees to report at the office when the company reopened its Sydney offices in August.
Ricobono, on the other hand, asked employees to get organized on Monday and set the tone for the week. Like many employers, though, he admits he’s still figuring things out as he navigates uncharted territory.
“We’ll be back in January,” he said. “We’ll see how it works.”
Across the country, office buildings in the top 10 US cities had an average occupancy rate of about 32% at the end of June, according to Estimation from Kastel Systems A security company that monitors access-card wipes in about 2,600 buildings. In Manhattan, only 12% of office workers had returned by the end of May, according to the latest survey by Partnership for New York City, a non-profit organization of prominent business leaders and employers.
Romina Rugova, an executive at fashion brand Mansour Gavriel, reveled in peace as she sat on a riverside bench in lower Manhattan after a rare day at the office for a meet-and-greet with the company’s new e-commerce head.
A mother of two, Rugova had mixed feelings about returning to office. It was refreshing to see colleagues in person after so long, and she didn’t always enjoy seeing her family and professional life blurry.
“The 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,” said Ragova. “A little while later in the office It was so nice and refreshing to be there. It’s a completely different experience, you don’t realize it.”
But she doesn’t want to completely leave the three hours of extra time saved without traveling. Many of his coworkers feel the same way, so Mansour Gavriel will likely implement a flexible policy when most of his 40 employees return to office after Labor Day.
“We’re still figuring it out,” Rugova said.
While most employers will expedite their plans to return to the office in the summer, about 40% of office workers Will still work remotely in September, according to a survey by the Partnership for New York City.
The trend has raised concerns about an uneven economic recovery, given that working remotely is an option available to the privileged few. In June, only 15% of workers teleworked because of the pandemic, according to the US Department of Labor’s monthly jobs 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 top employers and office space tenants in New York City, are pushing to bring back employees, taking a harsher approach than the tech giants, which have rolled out liberal remote work policies.
Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman said at a conference earlier this month that he would be very disappointed if people didn’t get their way into the office on Labor Day.
“If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come to the office,” Gorman said, though he acknowledged that there should be flexibility for parents who are still grappling with the childcare logistics that the pandemic brings. were separated during
Gorman also clarified that he was not open to the “work from anywhere” mentality that some companies have adopted, adding that employees who want to earn a New York City salary must work in the city. The CEOs of JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs have made similar remarks, sparking a furious debate about whether they will kick employees out the door.
It remains to be seen how deeply remote work policies affect recruitment and retention. But pros looking for flexibility are finding they have options.
Brescia Young, a data analytics scientist and mother of a 1-year-old, had the option of switching jobs from a small Chicago firm. She accepted an offer from Seattle-based real estate company Zillow in part because the company allowed her to work from home and live in Chicago, where she and her husband have relatives to help care for the child.
“Moving to the West Coast was on the table, but it would be a real hardship,” Young said, adding that her husband would also have to look for a new job. “I like the time savings in terms of commuting. It’s like 90 minutes of saved time that I can reuse.”
Associated Press writer Anne D’Innocenzio contributed to this story from New York.