Chicago Tribune (Sunday)
Firms test hybrid schedules as workers return to offices
NEW YORK — Last year, companies around the country scrambled to figure out how to shut down their offices and set up their employees for remote work as COVID-19 bore down on the world.
Now, in a mirror image, they are scrambling to figure out how to bring many of those employees back.
Most companies are proceeding cautiously, trying to navigate declining COVID-19 infections against a potential backlash by workers who are not ready to return.
Tensions have spilled into the public at a few companies where some staffers have organized petitions or walkouts to protest being recalled to the office. Many workers in high demand fields, such as tech or customer service, have options amid a rise in job postings promising “remote work” — an alluring prospect for people who moved during the pandemic to be closer to family or in search of more affordable cities.
“A lot of people have relocated and don’t want to come back,” said Chris Riccobono, CEO of Untuckit LLC, a casual men’s clothing company.
Riccobono said he can’t wait to get his 100 corporate staffers back to the office in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood because he believes that productivity and morale are higher that way. Starting in September, the company will require those employees to report to the office Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays on the hope that the flexibility of a “hybrid” schedule will keep everyone happy.
Many others are similarly introducing a gradual return.
Companies like Amazon and automakers Ford and General Motors have promised to adopt a hybrid approach permanently for their office staff, 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 which roles are most conducive to 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 newer employees need more face-time as they begin their careers or start new at at company.
“Thursday is the new Monday,” according to Salesforce, a San Francisco-based technology firm, which found that Thursday was the most popular day for employees to report to the office when the company reopened its Sydney offices back in August.
Across the country, office buildings in the top 10 U.S. cities had an average occupancy rate of 32% in late June, according to estimates from Kastle Systems, a security company that monitors access-card wipes at 2,600 buildings.
Riccobono insists employees show up on Mondays to set the tone for the week. But like many employers, he is still figuring things out as he navigates uncharted territory.
“We will revisit in January, “he said. “We will see how it works.”