David Gross, an executive at a New York-based advertising agency, convened the troops over Zoom this month to deliver a message he and his fellow partners were eager to share: It was time to think about coming back to the office.
Mr. Gross, 40, wasn’t sure how employees, many in their 20s and early 30s, would take it. The initial response — dead silence — wasn’t encouraging. Then one young man signaled he had a question. “Is the policy mandatory?” he wanted to know.
Yes, it is mandatory, for three days a week, he was told.
Thus began a tricky conversation at Anchor Worldwide, Mr. Gross’s firm, that is being replicated this summer at businesses big and small across the country. While workers of all ages have become accustomed to dialing in and skipping the wearying commute, younger ones have grown especially attached to the new way of doing business.
And in many cases, the decision to return pits older managers who view working in the office as the natural order of things against younger employees who’ve come to see operating remotely as completely normal in the 16 months since the pandemic hit. Some new hires have never gone into their employers’ workplace at all.
banking and finance, are taking a harder line and insisting workers young and old return. The chief executives of Wall Street giants like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have signaled they expect employees to go back to their cubicles and offices in the months ahead.
Other companies, most notably those in technology and media, are being more flexible. As much as Mr. Gross wants people back at his ad agency, he is worried about retaining young talent at a time when churn is increasing, so he has been making clear there is room for accommodation.
“We’re in a really progressive industry, and some companies have gone fully remote,” he explained. “You have to frame it in terms of flexibility.”
In a recent survey by the Conference Board, 55 percent of millennials, defined as people born between 1981 and 1996, questioned the wisdom of returning to the office. Among members of Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, 45 percent had doubts about going back, while only 36 percent of baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, felt that way.
most concerned about their health and psychological well-being,” said Rebecca L. Ray, executive vice president for human capital at the Conference Board. “Companies would be well served to be as flexible as possible.”
Matthew Yeager, 33, quit his job as a web developer at an insurance company in May after it told him he needed to return to the office as vaccination rates in his city, Columbus, Ohio, were rising. He limited his job hunting to opportunities that offered fully remote work and, in June, started at a hiring and human resources company based in New York.
“It was tough because I really liked my job and the people I worked with, but I didn’t want to lose that flexibility of being able to work remotely,” Mr. Yeager said. “The office has all these distractions that are removed when you’re working from home.”
Mr. Yeager said he would also like the option to work remotely in any positions he considered in the future. “More companies should give the opportunity for people to work and be productive in the best way that they can,” he said.
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Even as the age split has managers looking for ways to persuade younger hires to venture back, there are other divides. Many parents and other caregivers are concerned about leaving home when school plans are still up in the air, a consideration that has disproportionately affected women during the pandemic.
At the same time, more than a few older workers welcome the flexibility of working from home after years in a cubicle, even as some in their 20s yearn for the camaraderie of the office or the dynamism of an urban setting.
I get to exercise in the morning, have breakfast with my kids, and coach little league in the evenings. Instead of sitting in an office building I get to wear shorts, walk our dog, and have lunch in my own kitchen.” Chad, Evanston, Ill.
V.A. issues vaccine mandate for health care workers: “I am a VA physician and strongly support this decision. Believe it or not, I know and work closely alongside several frontline healthcare workers who are not vaccinated for COVID-19, almost all of whom have chosen to avoid the vaccine as a result of misinformation and political rhetoric.” Katie, Portland.
As China boomed, it didn’t take climate change into account. Now it must.:“I think this article really highlights the fact that capitalism is, and always will be, completely incapable of addressing long term existential threats like climate change.” Shawn, N.C.
“With the leverage that employees have, and the proof that they can work from home, it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube,” he said.
Fearful of losing one more junior employee in what has become a tight job market, Mr. Singer has allowed a young colleague to work from home one day a week with an understanding that they would revisit the issue in the future.
doctrinaire view that folks need to be in the office.”
Amanda Diaz, 28, feels relieved she doesn’t have to go back to the office, at least for now. She works for the health insurance company Humana in San Juan, P.R., but has been getting the job done in her home in Trujillo Alto, which is about a 40-minute drive from the office.
Humana offers its employees the option to work from the office or their home, and Ms. Diaz said she would continue to work remotely as long as she had the option.
“Think about all the time you spend getting ready and commuting to work,” she said. “Instead I’m using those two or so hours to prepare a healthy lunch, exercising or rest.”
Alexander Fleiss, 38, chief executive of the investment management firm Rebellion Research, said some employees had resisted going back into the office. He hopes peer pressure and the fear of missing out on a promotion for lack of face-to-face interactions entices people back.
“Those people might lose their jobs because of natural selection,” Mr. Fleiss said. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if workers began suing companies because they felt they had been laid off for refusing to go back to the office.
Mr. Fleiss also tries to persuade his staff members who are working on projects to come back by focusing on the benefits of face-to-face collaborations, but many employees would still rather stick to Zoom calls.
“If that’s what they want, that’s what they want,” he said. “You can’t force anyone to do anything these days. You can only urge.”
He did not respond, but days later Apple posted an internal video in which company executives doubled down on bringing workers back to the office. In the video, Dr. Sumbul Desai, who helps run Apple’s digital health division, encouraged workers to get vaccinated but stopped short of saying they would be required to, according to a transcript viewed by The Times.
The video didn’t sit well with some employees.
“OK, you want me to put my life on the line to come back to the office, which will also decrease my productivity, and you’re not giving me any logic on why I actually need to do that?” said Ashley Gjovik, a senior engineering program manager.
When the company delayed its return-to-office date on Monday, a group of employees drafted a new letter, proposing a one-year pilot program in which people could work from home full time if they chose to. The letter said an informal survey of more than 1,000 Apple employees found that roughly two-thirds would question their future at the company if they were required to return to the office.
In Los Angeles, Endeavor, the parent company of the William Morris Endeavor talent agency, reopened its Beverly Hills headquarters this month. But it decided to shut down again last week when the county reimposed its indoor mask mandate in the face of surging case counts. An Endeavor spokesman said the company had decided that enforcement would be too difficult and would hinder group meetings.
The employment website Indeed had been targeting Sept. 7 as the date when it would start bringing workers back on a hybrid basis. Now it has begun to reconsider those plans, the company’s senior vice president of human resources, Paul Wolfe, said, “because of the Delta variant.”
Some companies said the recent spike in cases had not yet affected their return-to-office planning. Facebook still intends to reopen at 50 percent capacity by early September. IBM plans to open its U.S. offices in early September, with fully vaccinated employees free to go without a mask, and Royal Dutch Shell, the gas company, has been gradually lifting restrictions in its Houston offices, prompting more of its workers to return.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise began allowing employees to return to its offices Monday, bolstered by a survey of its California employees that found 94 percent were fully vaccinated.
“Those who are most reliant also are the folks who are trying to literally go to their dialysis appointments,” said Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins, who works on federal policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council and is a member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s board. “We totally forget who really is most dependent on our transit system.”
In Cleveland, the transit authority cut downtown rush hour service early in the pandemic and halted express bus routes from suburban park-and-rides. But it didn’t cut service through neighborhoods where officials believed more workers, including hospital staff, had in-person duties.
“Do we have the heart to say after they’ve worked 12 hours to serve the community that now when they walk out to their bus, they’re going to have to wait almost an hour before the bus can pick them up?” said Joel B. Freilich, director of service management for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.
In 2019, the agency planned improvements to off-peak service, now rolling out this month. The pandemic further confirmed for officials, Mr. Freilich said, that every hour is rush hour for someone.
In larger regional transit agencies, these decisions will be more fraught.
“Inside almost every transit agency, inside its politics, inside its decision-making, there’s this inevitable conflict between the suburban commuter interest who’s trying to get out of congestion, who’s very focused on the problem of peak congestion, and then there’s the interest of people trying to get around all day,” said Jarrett Walker, a transportation consultant who led the planning for the Cleveland changes.
But there are other ways in which everyone’s interests better align in a world where travel peaks aren’t so sharp. Less congested city streets could mean faster bus travel, more space for cyclists, and more humane commutes for the people who still drive.
And if all of this means some lower-income transit riders shift to driving on roads that are no longer quite so terrible?
River Islands, the development where the Namayans hoped to live, is in Lathrop, Calif., which has a population of 25,000. It sits about a half-hour beyond Altamont Pass, whose rolling hills and windmills mark the border between Alameda and San Joaquin Counties. Though technically outside the Bay Area region, Lathrop’s farms and open fields have been steadily supplanted by warehouses and subdivisions as it and nearby cities have become bedroom communities for priced-out workers who commute to the Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
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In Livermore, on the eastern side of Alameda County, the typical home value is nearing $1 million, according to Zillow. That falls to $500,000 to $600,000 over the hill in places like Tracy, Manteca and Lathrop. The catch, of course, is that many residents endure draining, multihour commutes.
The pandemic may have upended that economic order, in California and elsewhere. Thousands of families that could afford to do so fled cities last spring, and while some will return, others will not — particularly if they are able to continue to work remotely at least part of the time. One recent study estimated that after the pandemic, one-fifth of workdays would be “supplied remotely” — down from half during the height of the pandemic but far above the 5 percent before it.
If those trends hold, it will make it easier for many workers to live not just in farther-out towns like Lathrop but to abandon high-cost regions like the Bay Area altogether. Midsize cities that for years have tried — usually in vain — to recruit large employers through tax breaks can now attract workers directly.
“If Google moves to Cleveland, that’s great, but if one Googler moves to Cleveland, that’s also great,” said Adam Ozimek, chief economist of Upwork, a freelancing platform.
To some extent, the pandemic accelerated a shift that was already taking place. When the housing bubble burst, members of the millennial generation were in their teens and 20s. Now the oldest of them are turning 40, and about half are married. They are hitting the milestones when Americans have traditionally moved to the suburbs.
Can I, err, forget to mention my plans to my boss?
It’s risky. Employers need to know where their employees work in case their presence leads to corporate tax obligations abroad. The risk is higher when employees are bringing in revenue for companies, such as in sales positions, said David McKeegan, who co-founded Greenback Tax Services, an accounting firm for U.S. expatriates.
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Still, many companies are operating on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. A science writer in his 50s from California, who was granted anonymity because he did not want senior managers to know he had worked from Costa Rica for a few months, said his human resources department discouraged employees from working outside of California, but did not say anything explicit about working abroad. His setup from an Airbnb by the beach worked perfectly until he lost power because of a hurricane and had to work from a bar a few times. He used his company’s Zoom background, but colleagues started asking about where he was when they heard ocean waves and music. “At a restaurant,” he would tell them, without elaborating.
As more people work from abroad, it may be harder for companies to turn a blind eye. About 10.9 million Americans last year described themselves as digital nomads — people who work remotely and tend to travel from place to place — up from 7.3 million in 2019, according to MBO Partners, which provides services for self-employed workers.
“The tax system globally right now is not prepared for what the work force is going through,” Mr. McKeegan said. “I think at some point we’ll see a system where people are asked on the way in or out if they were working and countries will try and get some more tax revenue from this very mobile work force.”
I want to work remotely while abroad for longer than just a few months. Can I avoid paying U.S. tax altogether?
Potentially. If you qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, your first $108,700 is exempt from U.S. income tax. But keep in mind that this applies only if you’re a U.S. citizen who resides in a foreign country for more than 330 days within 12 consecutive months, not including time on planes, or if you are a bona fide resident of a foreign country. (You would still have to pay federal and state taxes on unearned income including interest, dividends and capital gains.)
It is important to track the number of days abroad to be able to prove to U.S. tax authorities that you were there.
Paige Brunton, 30, a Canadian website designer based in Hannover, Germany, learned about how complicated the tax rules are for expats the hard way: One year, she had to file tax returns in three countries. The situation was unavoidable, since she had lived and worked in Germany, Canada and the United States during that tax year, but her biggest advice for others who may have complicated situations is to get an accountant who specializes in international tax right away.
“Don’t congregate in Facebook groups and Google, it’ll really stress you out,” she said.
He added that office workers represent “the first wave of a very essential layering of the density of New York City that’s needed to bring this city back.”
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Still, people will be returning to a new type of corporate environment. Saks started making changes to its office in the fall, when it had been contemplating a broader return until the pandemic took a turn for the worse. It has added amenities like a nail and hair salon and subsidized lunches to ease the lives of employees. It is also pursuing a fully open floor plan, where only a handful of people, including Mr. Metrick, will have offices. Other offices will be converted into Zoom rooms or in-person conference rooms.
“It’s literally round tables with five chairs and people can plop down there with their laptops,” Mr. Metrick said. “It’s kind of like a student union in college would have been. It’s a very social and open work environment.”
Mr. Metrick, who has led Saks since 2015, said that the retailer has hit a wall with Zoom, comparing its popularity to “when cigarettes went mainstream.”
“It wasn’t until a few years later that people realized, ‘Oh my god, this stuff kills you,’” he said.
Mr. Metrick said he did not agree with recent comments by WeWork’s chief executive, Sandeep Mathrani, who said at a Wall Street Journal event last week that the least engaged employees are the ones most comfortable working from home.
Saks, like many consumer-facing businesses, has a close and collaborative work environment based on its business model, where “it’s not as easy to draw lines about where responsibility ends and where the next person’s responsibility begins,” Mr. Metrick said. He has been more concerned about company culture than how hard employees have been working at home, especially as new hires have joined Saks, he said.
“Zoom and the virtual world is a culture killer for companies,” Mr. Metrick said. “It doesn’t mean the individual is engaged or not engaged, or working hard or not working hard, or productive or not productive — but culture is so important to a business. And there’s no way that having 900 people dispersed and only existing in an intentional Zoom world with no unintentional conversation is good for a culture.”
Last spring, as the pandemic raged through New York, Alexandria Taylor, who runs human resources for the banking and markets divisions, held a call with some trading floor managers and suggested they cajole their team members back to the office, said three people with knowledge of the calls. Other senior executives placed similar calls, but Ms. Taylor’s message carried weight because of her role as a representative of employee welfare and her rapport with Mr. Montag, current and recently departed employees said.
Ms. Taylor does not report to Mr. Montag. But the rapport between them has been a source of consternation for years, said current and former employees, because it meant one of the people best situated to correct the problems in Mr. Montag’s culture was also unusually close with him in ways that drew notice.
The two collaborated frequently on employee matters, and Ms. Taylor eventually moved her desk to a spot right outside Mr. Montag’s office. At one point, the executives even embarked on a low-carbohydrate, high-fat keto diet together, according to two people who discussed it with Ms. Taylor at the time. They were so at ease around each other that at one point last November she openly scratched or rubbed Mr. Montag’s back on the trading floor, according to three people who witnessed the interaction. Ms. Taylor said in a statement that “these items are inaccurate.”
During the pandemic, the productivity spreadsheet, titled “Tom/Dashboard,” according to an image of it, allowed Mr. Montag to track individual profits and losses of employees working at home versus those still in the office, according to that and other images and two people with knowledge of the spreadsheets. In the office, said one of those employees, Mr. Montag would sometimes pop by individual desks and say, “I knew you’d be here.”
Last summer, after news reports about their work-from-home policies, the bank took a more accommodating stance, current and former employees said. By fall, the spreadsheet had vanished from circulation, two of those people said.
“I do believe, long term, that it’s better culturally to know people and see them and be around them some,” Mr. Montag said in February. “Physical presence is good.”
It’s unclear how long Mr. Montag will be present himself. In February, he said that given his age, at some point “they’re going to kick me out of here.” And in a note to some employees last July, he appeared sanguine about his career. “I came to New York to make a few dollars, go back to Oregon, and buy a house,” he wrote. “Everything else has been gravy.”
Editorial staff members at Washingtonian are refusing to publish online on Friday after the D.C.-based magazine’s chief executive wrote an opinion piece about the future of remote work that generated an immediate backlash.
Cathy Merrill, the chief executive of Washingtonian Media, wrote in The Washington Post on Thursday that she was “concerned about the unfortunately commonoffice worker who wants to continue working at home and just go intothe office on occasion.”
Ms. Merrill wrote that by choosing to continue to work from home, employees are offering executives “a tempting economic option the employees might not like.”
Employees who are not in the office are not able to participate in what she called “extra” responsibilities, such as mentoring junior co-workers, helping a colleague, or celebrating a birthday, she explained, and managers may thus be less inclined to continue providing these workers with the status, and benefits, of being a full-time employee.
Twitter criticizing Ms. Merrill’s words.
“As members of the Washingtonian editorial staff, we want our C.E.O. to understand the risks of not valuing our labor,” they wrote. “We are dismayed by Cathy Merrill’s public threat to our livelihoods. We will not be publishing today.”
Washingtonian staff, who are not part of a union, are still working from home. The magazine plans to have employees return to the office gradually beginning in the summer and then more fully in the fall.
The article and its original headline — “As a CEO, I want my employees to understand the risks of not returning to work in the office” — felt to some Washingtonian employees like their benefits or jobs were threatened, said a member of the editorial staff who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions. The headline was changed to, “As a CEO, I worry about the erosion of office culture with more remote work.”
Goldman Sachs became one of the first big banks to put an end to remote work on Tuesday, when it asked a majority of its workers in the United States and Britain to return to the office in June.
In a memo to employees, Goldman executives asked that workers “make plans to be in a position to return to the office” by June 14 in the United States and June 21 in Britain.
“We are focused on progressing on our journey to gradually bring our people back together again, where it is safe to do so,” said the memo, which was signed by David M. Solomon, the firm’s chief executive, as well as his two top lieutenants, John E. Waldron and Stephen M. Scherr. The executives said the bank was “now in a position to activate the next steps in our return to office strategy.”
Exceptions would be made where warranted, according to the memo, which noted that in India and Latin America, where Goldman also employs workers, the health challenges remained substantial. But in New York, where the bank has its headquarters, pandemic restrictions are being lifted on May 19 as coronavirus cases fall and vaccination rates increase. The city is expecting fuller offices, restaurants and subways over the summer.
JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s biggest bank, plans to open all its U.S. offices on May 17 for employees who wish to return voluntarily. A compulsory return will follow in July, when workers will rotate in and out of the office in accordance with safety measures that will limit capacity at each office.
Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, who has previously spoken about the advantages of working from the office, reiterated his comments at a Wall Street Journal C.E.O. conference on Tuesday morning.
“We want people back at work, and my view is that sometime in September, October it will look just like it did before,” Mr. Dimon said. “And yes, the commute, you know, yes, people don’t like commuting, but so what.”
Mr. Dimon, who said he was “about to cancel all my Zoom meetings,” also acknowledged some pushback to the return-to-office news. “The wife of a husband sent me a nasty note about ‘How can you make him go back?’” he said.
Other banks have not yet mandated a return.
Citigroup has said that while it will invite additional workers back to the office in July, it expects to have only about 30 percent of its North America-based employees back by the end of the summer. Bank of America plans to issue 30-day notices to employees it wants to invite back, a spokeswoman said. The firm has not announced a schedule for doing so, although Brian Moynihan, its chief executive, said recently that the transition would not occur until after Labor Day.
The Goldman Sachs memo on Tuesday targeted the roughly 20,000 employees who are based in the firm’s New York headquarters as well as other U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Dallas, a person familiar with the figures said. Goldman employs another 6,000 or so in Britain, where it operates in London and another, smaller office, this person added.
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As companies reopen their offices, they are deciding how the virtual work arrangements they’ve relied on during the pandemic will factor into their long-term plans — or not.
Google’s “flexible workweek” calls for employees to spend at least three days a week in the office and the rest at home. Microsoft’s “hybrid workplace” means most employees can spend up to half their time working remotely. Ford Motor’s “flexible hybrid work model” leaves it up to workers and their managers to decide how much time they need to spend in the office.
Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase don’t have names for their postpandemic policies, because they expect most employees to return to the office for most of the time. Goldman’s C.E.O., David Solomon, called working from home an “aberration,” and JPMorgan’s chief, Jamie Dimon, said it had “serious weaknesses.”
But many companies have hatched a postpandemic plan in which employees return to the office for some of the time while mixing in more work from home than before. The appeal of this compromise is clear: Employers hope to give employees the flexibility and focus that come from working at home without sacrificing the in-person connections of the office.
How, exactly, to strike this balance can be less obvious.
Should companies require employees to be in the office on certain days? For a set number of days each week? How should those in the office accommodate colleagues working remotely?
To help answer pressing questions like these, DealBook assembled advice from experts about where to start, how to avoid common pitfalls, and the most important things to consider when not everyone is working in the same place.
a comparison of two accounting companies, researchers found that a flatter hierarchy helped facilitate virtual work, because remote workers didn’t feel too far from the center of the organization. Our own research also found a strong correlation between employee autonomy and productivity outside the office.
What is the culture of the company? Companies with an individualistic cultureseem to make a smoother transition to virtual work; by contrast, companies that stress “us” over “me” have been slower to adopt online collaboration.
What is each team’s schedule? If schedules are similar and work is interdependent, it’s good to encourage everyone to work roughly at the same time. If employees live in different time zones, it’s better to set a few common windows for real-time communications like videoconferences, and let most other work unfold through email or document sharing.
These factors make it easier for managers to address the most common challenges faced by hybrid teams. Take communication barriers: What if half the team is in the office and the other half is dialing in from home? If their locations are dispersed (so the Zoom callers can’t make it into the office) and the organization is flat and decentralized, the company could use a buddy system to make each person in the room responsible for keeping one particular Zoom caller fully in the conversation. If the caller misses something, the in-room buddy can fill in that person via text chat; if the caller is being talked over, the in-room buddy can step in to ensure that the person is heard.
Another common dilemma is deciding exactly who will be in the office on which days. This is further complicated by a significant gap between executive and employee perspectives, with most executives feeling that company culture depends on people spending at least three days a week in the office and most employees saying they want to spend at least three days a week working remotely.
monthly surveys about remote work that my research team has conducted since May, we’ve found that 30 percent of U.S. employees never want to return to working in the office, while 25 percent never want to spend another day working from home. Given such different views, it seems natural to let the workers choose. One manager told me: “I treat my team like adults. They get to decide when and where they work as long as they get their jobs done.”
But this approach raises two concerns. One is that it’s likely to result in “mixed mode,” the widely disliked situation when some people are at home and others are at the office, all appearing in one Zoom box in the conference room.
The second, less obvious concern is the risk to diversity. It turns out that who wants to work from home after the pandemic is not random. In our research we found that among college graduates with young children, women want to work from home full time almost 50 percent more often than men do.
This is problematic given evidence that working from home while your colleagues are in the office can hurt your chance of promotion. In a study I ran in China at a large multinational company, we randomly assigned volunteers to work remotely or remain in the office. Remote employees had a 50 percent lower rate of promotion after 21 months than their colleagues in the office.
categories of team interactions, which companies can consider when deciding how to structure work — regardless of where it happens.
Content interactions: communication about tasks, such as sharing feedback while sitting side by side. When work went virtual, more of these interactions took place asynchronously, through digital work tools such as Slack. One manager said communication had improved because individuals had more time to think.
Bounce interactions: new idea generation, as with an impromptu whiteboard brainstorming session. In the virtual version, individuals often generated ideas on their own, and then they and others emailed them back and forth. That made it harder to align with others; some teams adjusted by moving brainstorming sessions to videoconferences.