Employees could return to the office earlier than expected

The days of work from home can be counted.

While some companies, including JPMorgan Chase, Salesforce, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, are disposing of office space, others are increasing their return to work plans.

Just this week, Google, one of the first major U.S. companies to send employees home because of the coronavirus last year, told employees it was speeding up plans to be back in the office before the September 1 return deadline.

In a memo to Bloomberg employees first reported by Business Insider, Michael Bloomberg said he expects workers to return to the office after vaccination.

In a survey of more than 350 CEOs, HR and finance managers, 70% said they plan to have employees back in the office by fall this year. This emerges from a report by the personnel company LaSalle Network.

“I think every office will be re-entered by Labor Day,” said Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of LaSalle Network.

A year into the coronavirus pandemic, employers, particularly tech companies like Microsoft, Twitter, Square, Spotify, Shopify, and Amazon, were expanding guidelines for working from home, some indefinitely. This helped maintain the idea that remote working would stay here.

“All of them were driven by the tech companies,” said Gimbel. “Then all of a sudden you get these ‘vaccines for everyone’ in your lap.” (In fact, many states are now expanding the licensing guidelines for those who qualify for a shot.)

“I bet things will be back to normal within a year,” said Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

“It’s hard to change behavior in the workplace.”

According to LaSalle Network, managing employees who want to continue working remotely is a top concern for companies now planning to re-enter the office.

Vaccinated or not, more than half of employees said that given the option, they would like to continue working from home even after the Covid crisis ended. This comes from a separate survey by the Pew Research Center.

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Other obstacles included removing fears of commuting to work and getting used to the office environment, and potential conflicts between managers and employees over return to work policies.

Meanwhile, executives are also working to make vaccines more accessible to their employees and even motivate them to get vaccinated.

Employers like AT&T, Instacart, Target, Trader Joe’s, Chobani, Petco, Darden Restaurants, McDonald’s, and Dollar General are already among a growing list of companies that give workers time off and extra cash to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Around 8 in 10 employers said vaccinations will pave the way to a new normal in terms of getting back to work. This was found in another survey of nearly 500 employers by Willis Towers Watson, a benefits consultancy.

“A common strategy for employers is to make vaccines an easy choice for workers by first convincing them to get the vaccine and then making it easy for them to do it,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, director of public health at Willis Towers Watson.

About a quarter of employers go a step further by giving them vaccines to be administered directly to their employees or by making it easier for third parties to access vaccines – and another 55% are planning or considering doing so, according to Willis Towers Watson.

You will see more employers providing access to the vaccines.

Peter Cappelli

Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

“I can see more employers granting access to the vaccines,” said Wharton’s Cappelli. “I can imagine that there are all kinds of deals that can be cut.”

Experts say employers can require workers to get vaccinated. However, this is unlikely to happen unless they work in high risk environments such as nursing homes or meat packers.

According to Willis Towers Watson, most employers say they are more likely to encourage their employees to be vaccinated than to oblige them to get vaccinated. Only 10% of employers said vaccines should be mandatory.

Equal opportunity laws allow companies to prescribe the flu and other vaccines, but employees can opt out under certain circumstances. The same may apply to Covid vaccines based on early guidance.

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