Say Hello Again to the Office, Fingers Crossed

Executives at the investment firm TIAA are especially proud of one aspect of their back-to-work plans: The company is on only its second round of setting a return-to-office date. They first hoped to bring employees back in January, but were derailed by the Omicron variant. Now the firm is targeting March 7.

“We noticed other employers were saying, ‘We’ll be back in April.’ ‘We’ll be back in June.’ But we said we need some certainty,” said Sean Woodroffe, the head of human resources at TIAA, which has 12,000 U.S. employees. “This March 7 date is only the second time we announced a date.”

And Mr. Woodroffe is facing this new return-to-office date with optimism, he explained, seated at his desk in front of a glimmering cityscape, high above what he described as the bustling “vibe” of Midtown Manhattan. After all, the firm has a 98 percent Covid-19 vaccination rate, employees have been supplied with at-home tests and the line at the Third Avenue Wendy’s has been inching longer during lunchtime.

“With Omicron we realized that we needed to pivot from thinking about coming back into the office when Covid vanishes,” he said. “We recognized we have to pivot to how do you responsibly cope with Covid?”

The two-year mark since many American businesses sent their office workers home is approaching, and some antsy executives have delivered a long-delayed message: Return-to-office plans are real this time (fingers crossed). Managers are hanging up welcome balloons and dusting off monitors with a sense of confidence. Coronavirus tests are widely available, including some provided by employers. Many businesses know the majority of their employees are vaccinated. Many workers have recovered from Omicron and are resuming indoor social activities.

Executives are entering the next zone of return-to-office planning with what psychologists call “stress-related growth.” They have endured a sustained period of tumult. They are emerging feeling hopeful, equipped with new insights about how to respond when Covid cases surge and how to keep workers safe while businesses are open: by encouraging testing and imposing vaccine rules.

“There’s a very strong feeling we’re coming out on the other side,” said Keith McFall, the chief operating officer of the staffing provider Express Employment Professionals, based in Oklahoma City, which reopened its renovated office on Feb. 7 after scaling back a phased reopening that had started in July and then delaying an intended January return.

And there’s a sense of near glee among some managers as their R.T.O. plans cement: “It was like back-to-school week, quite frankly,” said Chris Glennon, the vice president of global real estate and workplace at Intuit, who visited the company’s San Francisco office last week. Intuit fully reopened its offices on a voluntary basis on Jan. 18 and is continuing to weigh timing for a required return.

Mr. Glennon noted that the company’s consulting physician had recently started a call by saying he had nothing but good news to share.

“‘I said, ‘Hallelujah, it’s the first time we’ve been able to say that,’” he added.

American Express told workers that they would be encouraged to return to the New York office starting March 1, followed by a broader return on March 15. Meta, formerly Facebook, is starting its hybrid return to the office on March 28. Microsoft said that starting on Feb. 28 workers would have 30 days to adopt working preferences with their managers, with the expectation that most would be able to work from home up to half the time, and Ford Motor said in April that it would adopt a hybrid work program, where many employees can be partly in-person and partly remote. This week, The Wall Street Journal’s parent company announced a flexible approach to R.T.O., and The Washington Post said earlier this month that staff would be required to come back in March.

Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase called employees back on Feb. 1, and Citigroup said this week that its vaccinated U.S. employees should return to the office at least two days per week starting March 21, if they haven’t yet gone back. BNY Mellon broke from its Wall Street peers in introducing a more flexible work arrangement. Chevron, which had delayed its return to the office in January, required Houston workers to return on Feb. 14. Some employers, like TIAA, candidly concede that in the case of a new variant they might have to adjust their policies.

“This is the fourth call to arms,” said Kathryn Wylde, the head of the Partnership for New York City, a business group, adding that she had recently met with a group of executives eager to see workers back in person. Some had postponed plans because of the Delta and Omicron variants of the coronavirus.

“They recognize the longer people are working remotely, the harder it’s going to be to bring them back to the office,” Ms. Wylde said.

How 5 Companies Are Returning to the Office

How 5 Companies Are Returning to the Office

After the spread of the Omicron variant derailed return-to-office plans late last year, some companies are making a new attempt to call their workers back. This time, they’re feeling hopeful.

Here’s how five companies are handling a new chapter in their R.T.O. plans →

How 5 Companies Are Returning to the Office

TIAA, an investment firm with 12,000 U.S. employees, delayed an intended January return to office and is now aiming for March 7.

“With Omicron, we realized that we needed to pivot from thinking about coming back into the office when Covid vanishes,” Sean Woodroffe, its head of human resources, told me while seated in the office.

How 5 Companies Are Returning to the Office

BNY Mellon broke from many of its Wall Street peers in offering more flexibility.

The bank, which has nearly 50,000 employees worldwide, is allowing managers to decide which days employees will be in the office.

“You can’t undo the experience we’ve had collectively together,” Jolen Anderson, the bank’s head of H.R., explained.

How 5 Companies Are Returning to the Office

At Meta, formerly Facebook, employees have until March 14 to decide if they want to go back to the office or request to work from home.

Booster shots will be required starting March 28 for those who are eligible.

How 5 Companies Are Returning to the Office

The Wall Street Journal’s parent company, Dow Jones, announced this week that staff would have some flexibility in R.T.O. plans: Leaders will discuss what type of return works best for their teams.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, will require workers to come back starting next month.

Will return to office plans hold up this time around?

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