The flexibility factor: Who must go back to the office?

Technology companies: remote and flexible. Financial services companies: office-centric and more rigid. Everyone else: hybrid. Those are the broad trends emerging from a Financial Times sampling of companies’ “flexibility factor”, or the extent to which they are allowing employees to decide where they work once pandemic conditions ease.

The persistence of coronavirus and individual exceptions to these trends complicate any assessment. The spread of new variants has overturned return-to-office plans. Incidence of the virus and regional rules still vary widely.

Over the summer, a number of US companies that had originally set September 7th – the day after the US Labor Day holiday – as the first day of post-pandemic working practices postponed plans to bring at least some staff back to the office.

In August, the bank Wells Fargo pushed its return date to October 4th. This was later delayed by a further two weeks to October 18th. BlackRock also postponed a full return to the office until October, while Amazon deferred its expected date for regular in-person attendance to January 3rd, 2022.

The model companies will adopt when it is safe to offer options to staff is less fluid. Uber originally announced in April its “clear expectation” that employees should come to the office three days a week. In June it amended the expectation to 50 per cent working in offices, spread in the best way for employee and team, be that three days one week, two the next, or five days followed by none the following week.

Companies are starting to coalesce around certain practices. The content and tone of announcements and public statements by senior executives provides a guide to employers’ attitudes. The table is an attempt to assess the state of play for companies whose plans have become public.

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