Hurry Up and Wait: Returning to Work for Real This Time

Although it seems like America’s workers have been at the starting blocks again and again, waiting for the gun to go off that will get them back to their offices, Covid-19 flare-ups have prohibited a mass re-entry. But managers and CEOs are optimistic that as the Omicron numbers die, American workers can get back to business. The office that workers left nearly two years ago, however, will never be the same, and managers are balancing the needs of the company with employees’ needs for more flexibility and control.

March Madness = Getting Back to the Office

After a seemingly endless series of pump-fakes about “new” starting dates for getting back to the office, which all ended up getting canceled by complications of Covid-19, companies are very serious about getting workers back in person. And fast.

With Omicron numbers falling, there is hope by many economic leaders that this plan to return to work might just be the charm. Recently, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced the state would drop its mask mandate for most businesses, which is a giant step in a positive direction for the state itself, as well as the once-bustling New York City. New Jersey and California made similar pronouncements for their states recently.

For a city like New York City, which has 1.5 million square feet of office space per square mile, and 10% of the country’s total office inventory, getting workers back in their offices as quickly as possible is imperative.

So how bad is the problem? According to the Wall Street Journal, as of February, 2022, offices in 10 major cities were only 33% occupied. For the myriad of businesses that count on those commuters, and for the morale and camaraderie of those who work in the downtown offices, the time is now to get everyone back to work.

“Barring another variant or a reversal in recovery from Covid, I think that the end of March will be a real turning point,” said Kathryn Wylde, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for New York City.  “Employers are anxious to get people back to the office, at least those with a strong office culture.”

Workers Crave Flexibility

Finance firms have been leading the charge for getting workers back in the office, as their work is accomplished much better on location. But with many in the technology and other sectors insisting on hybrid work models, even banks are trying to offer more flexibility, so they do not lose talented workers to other fields.

During the past two years, workers have gotten used to being at home, and are not willing to give up the positives of more time with family, less stressful commutes, and less money spent on travel and lunches.  Employees want more control and flexibility, and because businesses are hungry for quality workers, some employees can get what they want in terms of these perks.

According to the Harvard Business Review, ”They liked the flexibility, autonomy, and feelings of safety that came with working remotely. And they cite many legitimate reasons for not wanting to go back: Covid infection risk, of course, but also long commutes, discretion, work-life balance, and office distractions. Rather than return, some are opting to become part of ‘The Great Resignation.’”

Hybrid is Here to Stay

Besides the banking industry, other corporations are getting their people back to the office grind. As of February 28, 2022, Microsoft will give employees 30 days to shift to a new stage of hybrid working. And Walmart Inc. told its corporate employees it wants them back the majority of the time by February 28, as well.

For many companies, the hybrid model is here to stay. “We know there’s not a singular solution to how people work best, which is why we believe flexibility should be at the forefront of our evolving hybrid workplace,” Chris Capossela, Microsoft’s chief marketing officer. Capossela said.

“As a society, we will find a way to live with it, supported by the efficacy of vaccines and new treatments,” Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said last month. “For our firm, this means being flexible and dynamic with our protocols to adapt to this new state of the world, while also enabling the majority of our people to be back in the office safely.”

As the American workers face their “new normal,” they are learning that they have more flexibility and control than ever before. CEOs and managers need to balance worker’s desires with their need to have quality employees in place. The name of the game is flexibility. The race is just beginning and dealing with the aftermath of Covid-19 is a marathon, not a sprint.

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