Despite rising cases of the COVID-19 delta variant, many businesses have begun the process of bringing employees back into the office. The exact format is still yet to be determined in a majority of cases. However, the pandemic has highlighted the flexibility of certain industries and the value of in-person work simultaneously as some employees have developed greater preference for remote work.
“A lot of businesses are really struggling to come up with guidelines,” Ryan Rosenbaum, executive director of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, told the Delaware Valley Journal.
When advising local businesses on their guidelines, Rosenbaum suggests following Centers for Disease Control recommendations, even though they change rapidly.
“The reality is they are navigating through this,” he said.
Rosenbaum described how many companies in the Montgomery Chamber have now discovered that they can change the way they have operated in the past, usually to a hybrid or completely remote model. While there have been many vacancies of office buildings, according to Rosenbaum, the tide seems to have shifted slightly in favor of in-office work.
Suzanne Basile, president of J.M. Basile & Associates, Inc., a commercial and industrial realtors company, tied the increase in office building vacancies with a wave of business closures.
“There are people who have decided to start a new business or to even expand their business. There has been a small percentage of people who have actually done really well even through the pandemic,” Basile said. She added, “At this point, I am seeing all the space that was back on the market from the pandemic really being absorbed, so it is looking good.”
Companies looking for office spaces or that currently have an office are working on reconfiguring the traditional layout to include more flexible options such as kitchen facilities, workstations or even a conference area where people can come if they are spending a day in the office, she said.
While the location and organization of in-office work is a consideration in itself, companies must balance fluctuating COVID-19 cases with a return to a more normal work format.
“Our culture is critically important to us and underpins all that we do,” said Rebecca Acevedo, of WSFS Bank.
“Our transition to work in the office has involved multiple phases and we have begun a model that allows a very limited population of associates in our corporate offices. We continue to draft our plan in pencil knowing 2021 will be fluid,” she said. “We will learn from the transition, which will allow us to pivot where we need to and adjust our plan. Our top priority remains the safety, health, and wellbeing of our associates; that will continue to guide us as we make decisions.”
Meanwhile, Bank of America has started to allow vaccinated employees to return to in-office work, CFO Paul Donofrio, told reporters. In addition to banking, the food industry is in a unique position that requires more in-person activity than many remote-flexible industries.
Dave Magrogan, CEO and founder of Harvest Seasonal Grill said that positions in accounting and marketing have done well remotely.
“I was always a big believer in getting everyone into the office to make sure work was getting done and to increase accountability. With certain departments I have found working from home has actually increased job satisfaction, productivity, and performance,” he said. “Certain employees really enjoy the structure of having an office and leaving work at work. Other employees have thrived in the work-from-home environment. We have several employees that are in the office two to three days a week and home the rest of the week.”
While Harvest Seasonal Grill restaurants (located in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Florida) depend on employees working in person, their corporate positions have enjoyed greater flexibility.
“I believe we have forever changed how we operate our business and we are more flexible now versus the past,” Magrogan said.
However, the workforce shortage has prevented businesses from returning with as strong of a force as larger companies.
“Staffing has been a challenge for many reasons including unemployment compensation, stress on the hospitality industry, higher wages and benefits at bigger companies, child care if kids are not in school, some still fear being in public while COVID-19 is still present and the list goes on,” said Domenick Savino, CPCE of the Drexelbrook Catering and Event Center.
Drexelbrook’s biggest issue now is getting its Restaurant Revitalization Fund replenished, according to Savino. However, staffing problems remain a challenge shared by many businesses.
“The number one issue holding back reopening and endangering thousands of businesses, especially small businesses, is the workforce shortage,” Guy Ciarrocchi, president and CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Commerce, commented. “This is forcing small businesses to reduce hours of operation and products or services offered. This is crushing the very businesses harmed the most by the COVID-lockdowns and restrictions.”