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COVID: Many Bay Area Companies Unsure When To Bring Workers Back

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- As case counts and other metrics for the Omicron variant continue to improve, many Bay Area companies are returning to the office in the next few weeks but setting an official date is, and has been, a challenge for executives.

For many companies, this is the fourth time they're grappling with announcing a "return to the office" date.

It's a delicate balancing act for employers, trying to meet varying demands from workers.

"Yes, I'm glad to be back," said Taylor McAdam.

There are more signs of reopening including people peering through office windows.

But towering, mostly empty high rises looming in downtown San Francisco, are daily reminders of a vastly different "endemic workplace".

"We don't need to be in the office 24-7. It makes a lot of people happy to be at home," said Simran Saraan.

Companies like Wells Fargo have opened their doors with most employees returning by mid-March.
Others like Google have delayed their returns, and haven't officially announced a new date.

"CEOs are becoming increasingly nervous about setting return to office dates because they've seen if they keep setting a date, that gets messed up," said Stanford University Professor of Economics Nicholas Bloom. "It's like trying to catch a plane in the middle of a Bay Area storm; it just gets delayed and delayed and delayed."

Bloom has been researching this topic for years and says most companies envision a hybrid future, a mix of working from home and at the office. But there's been a shift in the number of days.

"We've been asking them each month, how many days a week are you letting your managers or professional employees work from home. That number has been creeping up, it was about one day a week in summer 2020 is now going up to about two days a week," said Bloom.

Trying to revitalize parts of the economy and city that have taken a beating with fewer workers to support small businesses, city leaders are pushing for companies to return to the office.

"We're hearing from our bigger companies that as early as next week they're going to be coming back into the downtown core of San Francisco," said San Francisco Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rodney Fong. "That is so important for San Francisco as we all know the economic core of the city, hotels, offices, small businesses are so important to downtown. All those sandwich shops need a boost."

"It just gives you the opportunity to see your co-workers. It's been an easier transition than I thought," said Saaraan.

Bloom's best advice to executives is to give employees a three month advance notice for a return date, so they have time to prepare to make that transition.

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