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Headed back to the office? Corporate America is trying to decide when and how to bring employees back — if ever

Will we ever get back to the office?
Will we ever get back to the office? 08:15

As vaccination efforts pick up, companies and states are struggling to chart the new normal. And as many Fortune 500 companies and their employees are finding out, the old normal might not be coming back.

Microsoft employees will have the option to return to their Washington offices starting next week. Deere's first phase to return in-person to offices will begin in early April — but factory workers have been reporting in for months. For about 200,000 Wells Fargo employees working remotely, the shift won't begin until at least May. At Amazon, employees working from home will head in no earlier than July. Google, Kraft Heinz and American Express are eyeing September. Starbucks headquarters is looking at October.

And even as companies eye guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about safely returning, many employees never want to head back to the office. A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found 52% of Americans would choose to work from home permanently given the option. Two-thirds of those who want to work permanently at home, said they would do so even if the U.S. reached herd immunity. 

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced a new goal of 200 million coronavirus vaccinations in arms in his first 100 days, up from 100 million. In mid-March, he had directed states to make all adults eligible for vaccines by May 1. The goal, he said, would be to be able to gather with loved ones by the 4th of July.

Biden sets new goals for fighting coronavirus pandemic 03:26

CBS News heard from more than 40 Fortune 500 companies employing upwards of 5 million people combined on their back-to-the-office efforts. Some have already started returning to work spaces -- protective gear and social distancing in place. Some have laid out tentative timelines for workers to rejoin the commuting masses. And some are still seeing where the data leads. 

Here are various examples of how different companies are approaching returns more than a year into the pandemic: 


Some of the manufacturer's workers have been on-site throughout the pandemic. For employees who have been reporting to work, the company has implemented enhanced cleaning, a contact tracing program and is requiring face masks and social distancing. But for those working remotely, they will not return to facilities before mid-July. 


The hybrid approach is one Dell is no stranger to — it started a flexible work program more than a decade ago. With the pandemic, about 90% of its workforce is remote, and less than half of those will return to the office. Ultimately, the company says, 60% will work primarily at home. 

For those who do return, the move will be gradual. When the pandemic hit last year, Dell data scientists put together a risk assessment tool which covers every country in which they have employees to determine when it's safe to bring employees back. Of their 76 locations, only three allow workers with no masks or social distancing. All U.S. locations still only have essential workers on site.


"It's the right time to pause and think about what the future might look like and when it will come," said  Joanna Daly, a vice president of compensation, benefits and human resources business development at IBM.

At the onset of the pandemic, about 95% of IBM's global workforce shifted to working remote. In certain locations, some employees have returned to work, like in labs, but the majority of U.S. employees are still at home. The company has not set a timeline for returning to offices but anticipate it will be more flexible moving forward.


At retail giant Target, workers have been reporting to stores throughout the pandemic. But only a very small portion of its team has returned to its headquarters. According to a spokesperson, they've pushed back a gradual return to headquarters over the summer to the fall as they continue to evaluate plans. Looking beyond 2021, they're aiming to also include a hybrid model of remote and on-site work. 


Starting in May with their leadership team, employees will have three options on how they work depending on the role: at the offices, solely at home or a hybrid. All USAA employees will be working under the new model by early July unless conditions change. 

Encouraging Vaccination Efforts

Several companies have also indicated they're encouraging employees to get vaccinated when they're eligible, 3M included. The company said it's actively helping workers and communities access the vaccine through public health and on-site vaccination drives when possible. Deere has also held several on-site vaccination clinics in Illinois and Iowa for employees who want one.

The Business Roundtable has partnered with the Biden administration and others on the "Move the Needle" campaign. It's an effort to support the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, which multiple companies are participating in, including Dell. Businesses encouraging vaccinations could make a difference — but only 5% of organizations would require employees to receive a vaccine before returning to work, the Society for Human Resource Management found. 

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