The leaders of three large downtown Milwaukee employers are working to encourage their employees to return to the office.
The heads of Marcus Corp.
said creating an environment that workers want to be a part is key, as many have settled into the routine of working from home.
Greg Marcus, president and CEO of the Marcus Corp.; Jonas Prising, chairman and CEO of ManpowerGroup; and John Kissinger, president and CEO of GRAEF, discussed their return-to-the-office plans during a Greater Milwaukee Committee meeting Monday.
Marcus noted his company’s offices are open, though just roughly a third of workers are currently coming in to “varying degrees.” Company leaders haven't yet mandated a return-to-work date, but rather are hoping employees come back voluntarily as they feel comfortable doing so.
Marcus said he doesn’t see why someone who is vaccinated shouldn’t “seriously consider” coming back to the office.
Marcus Corp. is taking an “office first” approach moving forward, rooted in the understanding that online collaboration can’t substitute for the value of in-person interactions, he said.
“Spontaneity can’t be predicted,” Marcus said.
ManpowerGroup expects employees to begin coming back over the next few months, with a full return to the office following Labor Day, Prising said.
“That’s when we would expect to be fully operational in a new way,” he said.
He noted the company wants to wait until the end of summer, given the uncertainty of summer programming and how that will affect employees’ child care needs.
Prising said a recent survey of employees indicated the vast majority want to come back to the office when it’s safe to do so.
Kissinger said GRAEF would need to see two things happen before all employees can return to the office: a decrease in the six-foot distancing mandate and the end of the mask mandate.
With GRAEF’s open office setup, Kissinger said, employees would need to wear a mask at all times under current guidelines, and many wouldn’t want to do so.
With the uncertainty of those two factors, Kissinger said he expects a fully operational office anywhere between two and six months from now.
Marcus and Kissinger also noted that their companies will be urging senior leaders to return to the office first, to set a tone for the rest of the staff.
Marcus said it will be important to have a culture that creates “FOMO” (fear of missing out) among employees who are still at home.
Even if “COVID went away tomorrow” and there were no longer health risks to employees, Kissinger said it would still be difficult to ask people to come back, given the habits they have developed over the past year.
“How do we encourage people to come back to the office and remember what a good time it is?” he said, adding that having a critical mass of employees in the office is important, or else the office loses its value.
All three leaders said things will look different when employees return, but the extent of those changes remains to be seen. Marcus cited conflicting studies that show some employees want to be in the office three days a week and at home the other two; while others say they would prefer to be fully back in the office.
“My take is that it’s way too early to divine what workers are really going to want moving forward,” Marcus said.
Prising said ManpowerGroup expects to continue offering greater flexibility to employees, including shifting work hours and schedules.
That could mean the company will need less office space, potentially freeing up a floor
of its four-floor HQ, Prising said.
“Human preference will ultimately decide what actually happens,” Prising said.