An abrupt shift to remote working caused by the pandemic demonstrated that the bulk of office workers can work productively from home (at least during the initial three-month experiment). This has prompted some corporate leaders to postpone the return to the office until next year or re-evaluate the use of traditional offices entirely.
There are some jobs, however, that, for various reasons, are best done on-site. For example, industries where critical supply chain, manufacturing or agriculture are the primary business are requiring certain support employees to return to the office to ensure that production continuity and logistics demands are met, says Samantha Fisher, director of workplace strategies at real estate services firm Transwestern.
Banking is another sector that seems to be facing more pressure to get key personnel back to the office. JPMorgan, for example, began bringing staff who volunteered to return to the firm’s Manhattan office, starting with 20 percent of sales and trading staff, last week, reports Bloomberg. The firm plans to ramp that up to 50 percent of sales and trading staff by mid-July. Other Wall Street firms announcing plans to bring employees back to the office include Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which will bring an initial group of employees to its major U.S. locations on June 22, and Citigroup Inc., which plans to have 5 percent of its staff back in offices in early July.
Additionally, any job functions involving governmental regulations or oversight require an on-site presence, Fisher notes. “High levels of government agency or financial controls oversight and reporting, auditing functions, data security, and customer service are all reasons why an employer might not embrace full remote-working options.”
While technology has made it possible for law professionals to work primarily from home during the pandemic, attorney Craig Coan, a partner at the Los Angeles law firm of Greenberg Glusker, says that the office environment is key for efficient functioning when a large case or transaction involves a collaborative effort and a need for equipment such as printers and scanners. Practice areas that require a “wet” signature, such as real estate, trusts, estates and wills, also require an office presence.
Another reason to go back to the office, he adds, is to mentor and train young attorneys, as this is difficult to do remotely. Byron Carlock, national partner and real estate practice leader with consulting firm PwC, agrees. He cites business functions that must or should take place in a shared environment, such as budget preparation and planning; new product training or demos; activities that involve clients; completing complex transactions that require multiple signatures; and on-boarding new talent.
“This time of the year we bring new grads on-board,” he says. “They need to be in an office environment to train on systems and integrate into the company culture.”
Company size may also be a factor in requiring a return to the office sooner rather than later, according to Fisher. Larger organizations generally have more infrastructure and resources to support a large-scale remote working program. But many small- to medium-sized businesses need their employees to perform multiple functions and so are more invested in physical office space to support productivity. “Replicating that for home environments, even if employees could work remotely, is not always practical or financially feasible,” Fisher says.
However, ensuring employee health and safety will remain a major focus for some time, she adds. As a result, there may be a shift in how office space is used “such as shifting to hub-and-spoke models that enable groups to work closer to their homes, while still fostering in-person collaboration,” she notes. “We could also see companies relocate or open satellite offices in the suburbs to accommodate a workforce that is hesitant to congregate in dense, urban areas or take public transit.”