As companies inch closer to returning to the office, flexibility is key

As more people receive vaccinations and local economies start to slowly reopen, the broader financial services industry is preparing for how and when to start bringing workers back into offices, while navigating the delicate issue of who is and is not vaccinated.

At Charles Schwab Corp., for instance, the plan is for a “sequenced” return to offices, “ensuring we continue to serve clients while also keeping people safe,” according to company spokesperson Mayura Hooper.

Headquartered in Westlake, Texas, Schwab operates 10 major centers of operation in the United States and has more than 600 branch offices in 45 states.

Assuming no major setbacks related to the Covid-19 pandemic or the vaccines, Hooper said up to a third of Schwab employees will be welcomed back to their offices in July on a voluntary basis. And the plan is for a majority of employees to come back to the office in October.

“Our formal return-to-office process in October will take a tiered approach with the majority of employees having meaningful flex time to work from home,” she said. “While the current environment is fluid, we will continue to manage our employees’ work arrangements in line with guidance from health agencies, taking into account factors like vaccinations, hospitalization rates, school openings and others.”

With vaccinations now available to virtually every adult in the country, many companies and local governments are suddenly faced with the delicate matter of people who are not vaccinated and do not plan to get vaccinated.

In one extreme example, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to separate vaccinated fans from non-vaccinated fans attending New York Yankees and New York Mets baseball games.

But at the company level, medical privacy laws make it more difficult to take such hard lines, so most businesses are resorting to politely nudging employees and customers to get the shot, while also navigating adherence to local laws related to the pandemic.

“While we are not requiring our associates to be vaccinated, we are encouraging associates to get vaccinated, based on CDC and government regulations,” said T. Rowe Price spokesperson Robert Matthews.

The plan at T. Rowe is for U.S.-based employees to return to their offices beginning mid-September, at which time the company will implement a “flexible workplace philosophy to allow more of our associates the option to work a portion of the work week from home,” Matthews added.

Baltimore-based T. Rowe has 16 international offices serving clients in 47 countries.

At the Carson Group, where the first 120,000 square feet of newly built office space in Omaha, Nebraska, will be completed this month, there is a six-phase plan for getting more than 200 employees back to offices over the next two months.

Currently about 20% of Carson employees are going into the office daily.

“Our flexibility stance is we’re an office-first company, but flexible,” said Joe Steuter, vice president of corporate communications.

“There’s something culturally advantageous about having everyone in the same place,” he added. “We are requiring people be in the office at least a portion of the time.”

Steuter said there is no vaccine policy related to entering the building at Carson Group, but the company did survey employees and learned that about 5% do not plan on getting the vaccine.

“This was an anonymous survey to determine what people, on the whole, are thinking,” he said. “We can ask if they plan to get the vaccine, but we can’t ask why or why not.”

Shelly Kapoor, director of operations at Arnerich Massena, said her advisory firm is also in the middle of building out new office space and is adapting to the new world accordingly.

“We are utilizing the latest and best practices to create a space and develop policies that allow for flexibility in working and collaborating from multiple locations,” she said.

On the topic of vaccinations, Kapoor said, “We are strongly encouraging all employees to be vaccinated before returning to the office.”

At Fidelity Investments, there are currently no “definitive plans regarding reopening offices or working arrangements,” according to Michael Aalto, vice president of external communications.

Headquartered in Boston, Fidelity has corporate operations in 12 states and more than a dozen countries outside the United States.

Fidelity has “voluntary re-entry programs” underway for employees based in Boston, Denver, and Merrimack, New Hampshire “with a limited number of employees,” Aalto explained.

“Once we return to our offices on a larger scale, we expect there will flexibility with employees working part of their work schedules in the office and part remotely,” he added.

On the vaccine question, Aalto said that Fidelity “believes in the efficacy of the vaccines,” but also “understands that exceptions will exist for certain religious, medical, or other reasons.”

“As we develop our policies, we’ll continue to be driven by data and the medical science that supports the safety and efficacy of the vaccines and encourage associates to be vaccinated as soon as they have the opportunity in their communities,” he said. The Vanguard Group, which recommends but does not require employees to be vaccinated before returning to the office, is also embracing a flexible working-from-home schedule.

“The pandemic has affected so many aspects of our lives, and how we work is one of them,” said Freddy Martino, spokesperson for Vanguard, the Malvern, Pennsylvania-based asset manager with 19 locations worldwide and 17,300 employees.

“Going forward, Vanguard will pursue a working model that will blend increased flexibility with the known benefits of in-person collaboration,” he added. “Vanguard crew will primarily adhere to one of three models: those who will work predominantly from a Vanguard office; those who will work predominantly from home; and, for the vast majority of crew, a hybrid model.”

At Morningstar, where the majority of the global workforce continues to work remotely, most offices have opened to employees willing to follow safety protocols, according to a statement from the company.

“Morningstar is applying a phase-based approach to reintroducing more regular use of our offices based on our frequent evaluation of pandemic conditions and case rates specific to each city; we have not determined a set date for our U.S. offices. For the long term, we plan to offer even more flexibility in how and where people work,” the statement reads in part.

Headquartered in Chicago, Morningstar has major regional offices in New York, London, Hong Kong, Paris, Sydney, Australia, and Shenzhen, China.

Morningstar is also encouraging, but not requiring, employees to be vaccinated before entering its offices.

The sticky issue of vaccinations becomes more pronounced once you get beyond the corporate-level infrastructure of some of the largest firms in financial services.

“My policy is the same as before Covid: vaccinations are a personal preference and private medical matter that employers have zero say in,” said Jim Dischert, founder and chief executive of Three Sixty Wealth Management.

“The world has changed, the workplace has changed, but as always the American people will figure out the best solution for themselves,” he added.

Meanwhile, public relations firm Impact Communications is making vaccines a requirement for entering the office.

“We ask that all team members, clients, strategic partners and suppliers be fully vaccinated before meeting indoors,” said president and CEO Marie Swift.

“Even then, we are sitting further apart than in the past, keep a window open, and have stopped shaking hands, hugging and so forth when greeting,” she added.

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The post As companies inch closer to returning to the office, flexibility is key appeared first on InvestmentNews.

As our second lead editor, Cindy Hamilton covers health, fitness and other wellness topics. She is also instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. Cindy received a BA and an MA from NYU.

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