United Kingdom

NYC-based companies are luring employees back as less than 15% of office workers return in-person 

Several companies with New York City offices are offering employees perks such as free lunch and a subsidized commute as they attempt to lure staff back to abandoned workspaces.

Despite New York state rules permitting that offices can be used to 50 percent capacity since the summer, the return to in-person work has been slow, with only around 15 percent of workers heading back to company buildings so far. 

In an effort to tempt staff into leaving remote work behind, the likes of Bloomberg, Hearst, L'Oreal, JP Morgan Chase and several real estate companies have bulked up the reasons why office work is beneficial. 

Expanded childcare services is a common extra perk now being made available, with real estate firm SL Green even offering a specialized pod in which employees' children can carry out remote  learning. 

The decision by the companies to try and tempt workers back comes despite Mayor Bill de Blasio deciding that city workers who can work remotely will continue to do so.  

Pictured JPMorgan Chase over the summer. The company is among those trying to lure it employees back to its New York offices by offering perks to such as better child care

According to the New York Times, the perks offered to employees has been most prominent among real estate companies, as they wish to show the struggling market that its safe to return to offices by doing so themselves. 

At SL Green, where almost the entire office has returned, cubicles are set up with plexiglass and are separated six feet apart, while masks must be worn. 

It offers in-home child care for families and helps pay for employees to park near the office, subsidizing half of the monthly garage rate, as an extra benefit. 

They have also hired tutors to offer remote schooling for employees' children from the office, which has proved a massive factor for parents' decision in returning. 

'They each have their own offices,' Francisca Lopez, a property accountant, told the Times of the teaching pods. 'It's the best incentive for me to come to work every day.'  

The company is taking precautions, however, still celebrating office birthdays but doing so via Zoom with snacks made available for workers to bring back to their desks.  

'People, I believe, do want to come into work, but they have to know that they get their basics covered,' said Marc Holliday an executive with the firm.

'When you really peel it away, work from home, this concept of everyone, of everybody isolating at home, and all the inefficiency it brings, is in my mind a very slow cancer that is very silent but growing on this economy.' 

In other large companies, executives are said to be frustrated with the lack of in-person interaction and are anxious to have busy offices again. 

Pictured, Marc Holliday, Chairman and CEO of SL Green Realty Corp. His company is offering employees a teaching pod for their children so they will return to working in the office

Employees at JP Morgan Chase Bank headquarters in Manhattan were recently angered when they learned about a positive coronavirus case in their building from media reports 

'Working at home was quite isolating,' said Steve Doan, who works with L'Oreal.  

'I get people interaction, I get those casual meetings, instead of scheduling a quick 10-minute conversation, I can just shout across the hall and get a yes or no answer.'

L'Oreal was faced with a rocky start this summer as it tried to push for employees to return to work. 

The company, which employs nearly 11,000 people, was dead-set on bringing its employees back to the office but faced major pushback. 

'They keep repeating how positive people are reacting and it's bull***t because no one wants to go back,' a current L'Oréal employee who works in California previously told Business Insider. 'It's pure gaslighting.' 

The company has now settled on a system in which employees come to the office two weeks each month, but with additional days to work from home.

A spokesperson told the Times that about 15 percent of the staff is in the office at any time. 

'The hard thing about it is when I do go into the office, most of my team is at home, so I still have to do all of my meetings virtually,' one employee told the Times. 'Gradually every week, there are one or two more people in the office.' 

Other perks being offered by companies include free lunch at Goldman Sachs and discounted parking at the New York Stock Exchange 

And in Bloomberg LP, employees are being subsidized up to $75 a day - amounting to $1,500 a month - for commuting costs. 

In Heart and JP Morgan Chase, child care offerings have also been expanded. 

Yet Chase was also met with anger from employees when it emerged that they had failed to tell them about a positive coronavirus case among staff members in their Manhattan headquarters.  

While those who had been in contact with the positive case and others on that floor had been contacted, the rest of the building learned about it through media reports.  

As once the global epicenter of the pandemic, New Yorkers have been among the slowest in the country to returns to offices. 

The Times reports that only San Francisco, where many large tech companies have committed to long-term remote work, has seen a lower office occupancy than the Big Apple.  

Other large cities such as Dallas and Los Angles have been much quicker to return to their office buildings.  

It comes amid fears of a further spike in cases in NYC over the cold winter months, especially given recent localized shutdowns in Queens and Brooklyn. 

With some companies seeing no drop in the productivity of their workers, several such as the New York Times and Ford Motor Company have decided to push back any return to offices until next year. 

And Mayor de Blasio has made no push to see it change. 

'Midtown is important, but it's not the center of our universe,' Blasio said in a recent interview. 'The minute we think it's safe, we'll start to bring back government employees to the offices.'

Yet, with the city's economy struggling, business owners reliant on commuters fear for the future of their neighborhoods if they don't return. 

On Thursday, Mayor de Blasio warned that 'huge restrictions' could be on the horizon after the city recorded what he described as a 'meaningful jump' in new COVID-19 infections. 

De Blasio threatened to backpedal on the city's reopening Thursday, saying the growth in cases 'worries' him, despite the figures showing less than 2 percent of New Yorkers being tested are returning positive results for the virus.

The seven-day average positivity rate for COVID-19 tests reached 1.92 percent Wednesday while the daily rate was 2.7 percent.

Though the seven-day average is at its highest level since mid-June, it is still considerably lower than the national rate of 6.3 percent. 

New York state also has the second lowest seven-day positivity rate of all US states at 1.5 percent, with only Maine recording a lower rate at 0.8 percent.

By contrast, Wyoming is currently recording a rate of 55.2 percent and South Dakota 46.2 percent. 

New restrictions would come as a major blow to the Big Apple after residents and businesses endured one of the longest lockdowns, with hard-hit restaurants only reopening to indoor dining last month. 

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