This summer, executives at health-care-technology firm Epic Systems announced a plan: Most of the 9,500 employees at its 1,000-acre campus in Wisconsin would be expected back in the office in September.
The company, like many others, says its employees do their best work when they can collaborate in the same space. But blowback to the mandate was swift. Employees expressed fears about safety and spreading the new coronavirus. Local health officials questioned the move. So Epic joined legions of other companies making late-in-the-game changes to office-reopening plans, saying this month that staffers could work from home at least through the new year.
“I always say my crystal ball is not good enough,” said Brett Rehm, an Epic vice president involved in the company’s return-to-office strategy. “It is good to have future plans, but you have to pay attention on a daily basis to what is going on.”
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Expecting the virus to be under control by Labor Day, many employers had hoped to bring white-collar workers back to the office next month. But as cases rose in dozens of states throughout the summer, major school districts settled on remote or hybrid instruction, complicating the picture for working parents. Some employers have already scuttled plans to force office workers back so soon.
They include some of the country’s biggest companies. In an August survey of 15 major employers that collectively employ about 2.6 million people, 57% said they had decided to postpone their back-to-work plans because of recent increases in Covid-19 cases. Nearly half said they were putting in additional safety measures for when they reopen, such as redesigned workspaces and temperature checks.