As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic drags on, the leaders of many companies have begun asking the question “is it time to return to the office?” For businesses fortunate enough to remain open, aided by an ability to cut costs/adhere to government lockdowns by having remaining employees work from home, it is an inevitable and complex question. The most obvious answers are of course “yes” and “no,” but the question is complex because there are many follow up questions and other factors to be considered. This article will discuss what some journalists and analysts have heard from businesses pondering whether or not it is time to return to the office.
The “easier” answer to this question is “no, it is not time to return to the office” because it is typically easier to keep things as they are. For businesses in this frame of mind, a frequent next question is “well, when would be the right time to return to the office?” Some businesses have found that the answer to that question is never. They have successfully migrated to an all work-from-home (WFH) employee setup and don’t see any reason in going back to the way things were. Many employees have reporting higher satisfaction working from home than having to fight traffic and lose time out of their day going to/from an office where they have little to no control over the workplace environment. They can/have setup their home office in a way that helps them be just as productive, perhaps even more, than their bland cubicle back in headquarters.
Other companies already had most or all of their employees on a WFH setup and now have a justification to cut the costs associated with having a permanent office or headquarters. These costs include taxes on the property, utility bills, maintenance costs, and more. Other businesses that choose to call their employees back to the office, just not at this time, have to decide on a later date when that will happen. Such businesses are still largely at the mercy of federal and state government and will set that date to match whatever regulations are in place. This is a similar thought process for businesses who answer “yes” to the question of “is it time to return to the office?” It is generally not a good idea for such businesses to up and start calling their employees back to the office if it will put them afoul of government regulations.
Companies deciding on when to call their employees back into the office have other factors to consider too. Will everyone come back all at once? Will there be a rotational schedule, with some employees still WFH? The most complex factor is whether or not companies will require employees to be vaccinated, with inevitable court cases to follow that will provide guidance on that.