Could the office ever return to its pre-pandemic normal? That remains to be seen, but early signs show recovery is well underway across the country including the states that were hit the hardest by coronavirus. However, there are still a number of questions about how going back to the office will actually work.
Former epicenter New York is opening up offices at 75% capacity
Offices in New York State can operate with up to 75% of their workforce inside an office on May 15, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday. The increase in in-person attendance comes after offices currently operate at 50% capacity.
Additionally, other businesses can begin welcoming more people to their facilities in May, like gyms outside New York City (50%, up from 33%); casinos and other gambling outlets (50%, up from 33%); and outdoor festivities like sporting events (33%; the current mark is 20%).
The capacity increases at several venues were many consider a step to normalcy is a welcoming change, and comes as both New York State and the country beef up vaccination rollout and positive testing decreases.
Despite the increase capacity guidelines, social distancing, mask-wearing, health screenings, and all other state health and safety protocols remain in effect, according to the governor.
“We are making tremendous progress in the fight against COVID-19 vaccination rates are going up and the positivity and hospitalization rates are going down, so now we are going to open the valves of our economy even further,” Gov. Cuomo said in a statement.
“We are increasing the capacity limits throughout several industries, including gyms outside of New York City, casinos, offices and large-scale outdoor event venues.”
Offices across states are reopening on a case-by-case basis
It seems to be that how offices reopen is a case-by-case matter. New York City was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered the city in March 2020 and limited life for much of last year.
Other states have either reopened completely or plan to allow workers to return in full in the coming month.
Texas lifted the mask mandate and increased capacity for all businesses and facilities in the state to 100% back in March. The move was criticized after mask-wearing was no longer mandated, but hospitalizations decreased since the state reopened completely.
Rhode Island announced that businesses and houses of worship can return to pre-pandemic capacities by May 28, Gov. Dan McKee said. Offices in Rhode Island would be allowed to operate at 80% capacity on May 7 despite current limits being set at 50%.
Social distancing of three feet and wearing mask indoors will continue, Gov. McKee said.
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom announced in April that the state aims to fully reopen on June 15 barring the state’s vaccine supply remains sufficient and getting people inoculated against the virus, while hospitalization rates are stable and low. That means workplaces can be fully open with risk-prevention polices in place.
Florida said employees should resume unrestricted staffing of worksites and implement the final phasing in of employees returning to work. Safety protocols remain in effect.
Vaccination rollout is key to office reopenings
The reopening of offices has largely been pegged to vaccination efforts around the country, but there’s still concern coming from workers about returning to the office. Many have embraced work-from-home as the new normal and research has indicted that employees aren’t going to willingly waltz back into an office space even if they are vaccinated.
Despite capacity limits being increased at work, that doesn’t mean employers are going to welcome everyone back. The consensus thinking is almost half of office workers are expected to return to the office in New York City by September. About 10% of office workers in Manhattan returned to the office as of early March.
There’s also been discussions of how to design a workspace especially when many offices have crunched employees into smaller offices as a measure to save money. Health officials have recommended spacing seating, furniture, and work stations, while improved ventilation is also highly recommended.