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Employers Succeeding In Return-To-Office Push… For Now

Employers are realizing early success in efforts to get staff back to work with office occupancy reaching a high not seen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

pedestrians g7941533f1 640The country’s top 10 metropolitan areas recorded an average of 47.5% of employees swiping into offices during the second week after Labor Day, The Washington Post reports, citing data from security company Kastle Systems. That is almost 4% higher than the number of workers returning to their offices during the week proceeding Labor Day. During the same period last year, the number of employees returning to the office averaged less than 31%. The biggest day for employers to smile came Sept. 14, when the average rose to 54.5% of pre-pandemic levels, which was the highest mark since early 2020, Kastle data shows.

Despite the good news, U.S. employers are still lagging far behind in getting their workers back, with office occupancy less than half of where it stood in 2019, Kastle data notes. Still, that firm’s chairman, Mark Ein, is betting that office occupancy will continue to rise in the months ahead.

Employers had struggled to require staff to return to the office amid ongoing COVID-19 risks and a labor shortfall even as vaccines were more accessible and deaths continued to drop. But Ein notes that workers have now decided they are “going to live with COVID” as the economy weakened, and this has translated to higher numbers reporting back to the office.

Kathy Wylde, chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, an organization representing hundreds of large employers, sees what is happening now as a big turning point. “We had four false starts on bringing people back to the office,” Wylde said. “This feels like we’re finally putting the pandemic behind us.”

Some positive signs are sidewalks packed with workers and downtown restaurants reporting larger number of workers coming in for lunch, she added. “We are hearing more and more that employees are recognizing that their career advancement depends on relationships and getting back to the office,” Wylde said. “We think that will continue to advance.”

Wylde’s group conducted a survey from August 29 to September 12 of more than 160 large Manhattan office employers to learn of how many workers had gone back to the office or who were still working remotely. “As of mid-September 2022, 49% of Manhattan office workers are currently at the workplace on an average weekday, up from 38% in April,” that survey found. “Only 9% of employees are in the office five days a week.”

The survey also notes that the number of employees who are fully remote fell from 28% in April to 16% by mid-September. “Return to office rates are projected to increase gradually through the rest of 2022, with 54% of workers expected in the office on an average weekday by January 2023,” according to the survey. But employees who have grown used to working from home are not likely to give that up easily, another The Washington Post article reports. Scott Dobroski, vice president of corporate communications at Indeed, says a hot labor market means workers still have leverage.

“For employers, they need to understand the tide has turned,” Dobroski said. “This demand for flexibility among employees, no longer just a request, will likely have a direct impact on their hiring and retention efforts, which also directly impact a company’s bottom line.”

Returning to the office may be difficult for many who became accustomed to working from home for more than two years, but it could be beneficial in helping boost career prospects, especially for younger employees, Jack Kelly writes for Forbes. “You will meet new people, make friends and build a network of alliances that could help you throughout your career,” writes Kelly, who is founder and CEO of The Compliance Search Group and Wecruiter.io.

“You can find mentors to help navigate your career,” Kelly notes about working in an office. “There will be serendipitous meetings in the hallways, cafeteria, elevator and bathrooms. These impromptu interactions add up over time. It makes your work life better—or at least more tolerable—by having cohorts that share the same experiences.”

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