July Is the New January: More Companies Delay Return to the Office


When the coronavirus pandemic shuttered places of work round the United States in March, many firms informed their staff that it will be solely a brief hiatus away from headquarters.

Workers, they mentioned, could be again of their cubicles inside a matter of weeks. Weeks changed into September. Then September changed into January. And now, with the virus nonetheless surging in some elements of the nation, a rising variety of employers are delaying return-to-office dates as soon as once more, to the summer time of 2021 at the earliest.

Google was one among the first to announce that July 2021 was its return-to-office date. Uber, Slack and Airbnb quickly jumped on the bandwagon. In the previous week, Microsoft, Target, Ford Motor and The New York Times mentioned they, too, had postponed the return of in-person work to subsequent summer time and acknowledged the inevitable: The pandemic isn’t going away anytime quickly.

“Let’s just bite the bullet,” mentioned Joan Burke, the chief individuals officer of DocuSign in San Francisco. In August, her firm, which manages digital doc signatures, determined it will permit its 5,200 staff to do business from home till June 2021.

“We’re still in a place where this is evolving,” she mentioned. “None of us have all the answers.”

Many extra firms are anticipated to delay their return-to-office dates to hold employees secure. And employees mentioned they have been in no rush to return, with 73 p.c of U.S. staff fearing that being of their office might pose a danger to their private well being and security, in accordance to a study by Wakefield Research commissioned by Envoy, a workplace technology company.

More companies are also saying that they will institute permanent work-from-home policies so employees do not ever have to come into the office again.

In May, Facebook was one of the first to announce that it would allow many employees to work remotely even after the pandemic. Twitter, Coinbase and Shopify have also said they would do so. On Friday, Microsoft announced it would also be part of that shift.

The elongating timelines and changing policies add up to a continued balancing act for companies as the coronavirus shatters work norms and upends assumptions about where workers need to be to achieve maximum productivity. Employers are also under pressure to be as open as possible about their intentions so that workers can plan ahead with their lives.

The postponement of return dates is a “psychological blow for those who expected this to be a transition phase,” said Tsedal Neeley, a Harvard Business School professor who studies remote work. “The reality is hitting that, ‘There won’t be a vaccine as I expected very quickly. This is going to be my life, and I’d better learn how to do this.’”

Dr. Neeley likened the situation to waiting at an airport terminal for a flight that is continually delayed. With the new dates announced, she said, people can finally start adjusting from a temporary “grinning and bear it” approach to a permanent shift.

Successful companies “have begun to think about long-term strategy rather than ‘Let’s just survive our crisis,’” she said.

Much of corporate America is now following the lead of Silicon Valley tech companies like Google and Facebook. They were among those that allowed employees to work from home even before the pandemic hit in full force in March. Since then, Facebook has set the tone in planning for permanent remote work, while Google established the July 2021 target date for returning to the office.

“I hope this will offer the flexibility you need to balance work with taking care of yourselves and your loved ones over the next 12 months,” Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, wrote in an email to employees about the July 2021 date.

Other employers soon emulated the tech giants, also citing worker flexibility as a key factor in pushing their return-to-office dates to next summer.

Ms. Burke, the DocuSign executive, said announcing the June 2021 return date to employees prompted a “collective sigh of relief inside the company” because it put an end to the incremental postponements and uncertainty of when they would be expected to return.

Remote work has been productive, she said, and people like not having to commute. But a mix of in-person and remote is probably the most popular option for employees when life returns to normal, she said, because they also miss the social interaction of an office space.

Zoom “is not the same thing, and it’s exhausting,” Ms. Burke said. “By 7 o’clock last night, I was Zoomed out.”

Other companies that have delayed their returns to the office until next summer often face a more complicated decision because their work forces are not just made up of white-collar engineers, unlike those of internet companies.

Ford said last week that its decision to hold off on back in-person office work through June 2021 would apply to its roughly 32,000 employees in North America who are already working remotely. The company, which has about 188,000 employees, said the policy does not apply to factory staff.

“We know we are not meant to be 100 percent remote,” said Christina Luconi, the company’s chief people officer. “We will all go back to the office” when it is safe to do so, she said.

A push to all-company remote work can be particularly difficult for companies with predominantly young work forces, said Andy Eichfeld, the chief human resources and administrative officer at the credit card company Discover, which told employees on Sept. 29 that they would not need to return to the office before June 2021.

“A younger person needs apprenticeship in the first 10 or 15 years of their career,” Mr. Eichfeld said. “And we know how to deliver that in person. I’m not sure apprenticeship happens remotely.”

For some workers, the return date of next summer and the idea of permanent work from home is a mixed blessing.

When Colin Fahrion, a digital communications specialist for the University of California, San Francisco, found out in June that he would not need to return to the office until at least July 2021, he moved 15 miles farther away from San Francisco, from Richmond to Vallejo, about 30 miles outside the city, and bought a house.

Mr. Fahrion, 47, now has a dedicated office space and a backyard where his dog can play, and he has talked to his supervisor about working remotely on a permanent basis. Still, he finds Zoom meetings to be devoid of collaborative energy.

“I miss my co-workers,” he said.



Source link Nytimes.com

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