The Great Return: Companies Are Calling Their Workers Back to the Office as COVID-19 Fades | Economy

After grappling with the Great Resignation and the Great Retirement, the workplace is now facing the Great Return.

Led by the giants of the financial services and technology industries, companies are calling their employees back to the office as the second anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic nears.

Citigroup, BNY Mellon, Google and Twitter are just some of the big names that have told employees to plan for working in their offices this month, with many offering hybrid options such as a couple of days in the office and a couple of days remote work.

“It’s been almost two years since we closed our offices and travel, and I’m excited to announce that we’re ready to fully open up business travel and all our offices around the world!” Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal told employees on Wednesday. “Business travel is back effective immediately, and office openings will start on March 15.”

Agrawal added that the company would be flexible with schedules.

“So too, the decisions about where you work, whether you feel safe traveling for business, and what events you attend, should be yours,” he said.

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BNY Mellon, a global bank with 50,000 employees, on Thursday set Monday as its return to the office date but said managers would determine which days workers would be required to show up in person. Other leading banks and financial firms, including Citigroup, American Express, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan have also announced plans to have employees return, with varying hybrid models for office and remote schedules.

“After a very long wait, it will be good for many of us to see each other again in person and enjoy the connections, collaboration, and variety in our daily routines,” American Express CEO Stephen Squeri told employees last month. The company had a soft launch on Tuesday for its New York employees with the official return set for March 15.

Under the company’s “Amex Flex” approach, the company will operate “with colleagues in hybrid roles adopting the schedules set initially with their leaders.”

Many companies began setting return to work dates last fall as coronavirus cases receded but then had to scrap them when the highly infectious omicron variant struck. It peaked in mid-January, and cases have been on a downward trend ever since.

The moves could have broad ramifications for the economy, especially for urban areas such as New York, Boston and San Francisco.

“Activity in central business districts will pick up – dining, takeout, services and retail sales to workers there, janitorial and guard services, et cetera,” says Erica Groshen, senior economics adviser at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. “By how much, we don’t know.”

“Commuting and traffic will pick up,” Groshen adds. “Will people return to public transportation as much as before?”

The calls to return follow the announcement last Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indoor masks would no longer be necessary with 70% of the country living in areas where the risk of contracting COVID-19 is considered low or medium risk. That percentage has since gone up to 90%.

“What this tells me is that the U.S. economy is open for business,”Morning Consult Chief Economist John Leer said Friday morning following news the economy created 678,000 jobs in February. “Omicron is in the past, and businesses expect demand to remain strong going forward.”

The decision to offer flexible schedules reflects the reality of a job market where millions of workers have quit their jobs in recent months seeking either higher pay, better benefits or more control over their daily lives. But it also reflects the desire of many firms that have invested heavily in commercial real estate and hierarchical management systems to want control over their employees.

“As the economy and job market bounce back, the changing work set-up along with a surge in demand for candidates has helped create a perfect storm for job-seekers,” says James Neave, head of data science at online job firm Adzuna. “This is leading to higher wages, hybrid and remote roles becoming more normal, counter offers to employees looking to leave, and questions around how to engage and retain employees with quit rates at an all-time high.”

With workers in the driver’s seat, a February survey by the Pew Research Center found that 59% of workers who say their jobs can mainly be done from home are working from home all or most of the time. Of those, 83% said they were working from home even before the omicron variant of the coronavirus began to spread across the country.

But Pew and others have found that the ability and desire to work from home, even part of the time, skews demographically toward those with college degrees and higher incomes. Many who work in low-wage jobs or in service jobs like restaurant work and health care have not had the choice to work remotely.

Ron Hetrick, senior labor economist at Emsi Burning Glass, says there is a sharp divide among workers by age on who wants to be in the office and who wants to stay remote.

“The younger generation love the hybrid idea, but they also love the face to face,” Hetrick says. “The older generation, they were the yuppies of the ‘80s, they worked 70 hours a week” and now prefer not to be in the office all time.

But, he says, the employment situation is different as in the 1980s when it was a lot more competitive to get a job as baby boomers were climbing the ladder while also starting families. “You can be picky when you have a lot of opportunities,” he says.






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