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OC Employers Vary On Office Return Plans

As businesses continue to face health and safety issues amid the pandemic, while also adapting to new workplace trends, local employers are questioning how, when, and if they should return to an in-person workplace.

The Business Journal reached out to a variety of Orange County employers from different industries to gauge how they are navigating this potential return, with an eye on everything from maintaining employee satisfaction and corporate culture, to how in-person meetings are held, to how they handle computer security for remote and hybrid workers.

Following are their edited responses. 

Ivo Tjan

Chairman, CEO

CommerceWest Bank

How has your company approached returning to the office? 

Ahead of the pandemic, our company decided to consolidate several of our Southern California regional offices, while still maintaining our local office in Irvine. After a short period of going remote, I wanted to encourage everyone to come back, but I didn’t want to force that decision. 

So, we implemented safety measures and social distancing precautions, and also tried to add new amenities that would bring employees back on their own. At the time, it was a challenge to get your haircut or other services, so we added outdoor hair and nail salons, car wash stations, food trucks, etc. We created a safe and fun ecosystem that drew people back to the office, and by the end of March 2020, 95% of our employees were back.

Have you made any changes to the office?

We definitely needed more space, so we moved into our new office about two months ago at the former Entrepreneur Media headquarters across the 405 freeway. Our space is more than double what it was before, and there are about 75 employees in the office. We now have more space in between offices, and we also have a modern kitchen with amenities that employees might want from their time working at home, like air fryers, coffee machines and snack trays.

Will you be requiring vaccination verification, testing, masks, etc.? 

We are encouraging employees to get vaccinated by giving gift cards to those who get the vaccine. Almost all of our employees are now vaccinated, and the rest are required to wear a face mask.

Barbara Johnson Bechthold

Vice President, Administration

Clean Energy Fuels Corp. 

What are the Clean Energy plans for full reopening? 

We are way ahead of any company returning to the workplace. Larger companies are still struggling with how to bring employees back to an office environment. Clean Energy led Orange County in establishing a return-to-office strategy. As an essential business, we have been fully operational during most of the pandemic, with the exception of a short closure in spring of 2020.

What are your office safety protocols? 

We were one of the first companies in Orange County to implement COVID protocols and processes, which allowed us to safely reopen. Some of these procedures include redirecting foot traffic, social distancing, temperature scans, employee-only access (no outside visitors), mandatory masks, hand sanitizer products and stations, dedicated cleaning staff, revised workstation placement with acrylic dividers, employee communications and education, catered box lunches, and other safety precautions. In addition, we accommodated working parents with flexible work schedules and also accommodated our employees who needed extra time to return due to personal health issues.  

Now that Cal/OSHA has opened up, we ceased temperature screening but elected to maintain the other safety protocols we put into place. We provide lunches on Fridays now rather than every day as we did when we returned from remote work. We also had our workforce fitness walking challenge during the return time frame and everyone observed safety measures.  

Joern Keller

Senior Vice President

SAP 

Has the company returned to the office yet, and if so, how many employees are back?

Yes, the office reopened on July 6, 2021. We have about 30% of our employees coming into the Newport Beach office each week.

Do you have a plan to get everyone back in the office in the near term? 

All SAP employees globally have the option to work remotely until at least the end of 2021. At this point in time, it’s up to the employees to decide if they are ready to work from the office. With SAP Pledge to Flex, we are using a trust-based approach by putting the decision in the hands of our employees and managers to determine the best flexible and hybrid work arrangements for individuals and the business. We are creating an inclusive environment in which people can work from home, at the office, or remotely, and create flexible work schedules so everyone is empowered to run at their personal best, driving success for SAP’s customers.  

Will you be requiring vaccination verification, testing, masks, etc.?

Masks are mandatory inside the office to protect our people and guests. We also have been requiring all employees to declare their vaccination status if they come to the office as required by Cal/OSHA.

Seymour B. Everett, III

Partner

Everett Dorey LLP

Has the company returned to the office? 

The firm has implemented a Flexible Workplace Policy for its employees. Employees have the option to work remote, in office or a hybrid schedule. Many firm employees continue to work entirely remote, and the rest work a hybrid schedule. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to returning to work in the office post COVID-19.  

What is your policy on vaccinations and masks? 

All employees are strongly encouraged to receive vaccinations; however, vaccinations are not mandatory. Any expenses, related to these vaccines, not covered by insurance, are reimbursed to employees by the firm.  

The firm distributed a Certification of Vaccination Status form to all its employees in July of this year. Employees either certified to being fully vaccinated; partially vaccinated; not yet vaccinated but pending an appointment for first vaccination; not vaccinated; or decline to answer. This information was essential in determining which employees no longer needed to wear face coverings when working in the office.  

However, due to the spike in numbers due to the Delta Variant, the firm is currently requiring all employees working in the office, regardless of their vaccination status, to wear a face covering when in communal areas or when 6 feet of social distancing cannot be maintained.

Have you made any changes to the office? 

All firm employees were transitioned to work remotely on March 13, 2020, and continue to be able to work remotely indefinitely. For those employees who choose to work in the office, sanitation stations, touch free forehead thermometers, face masks, social distancing decals and sneeze guards have been set up throughout several common areas. The firm also implemented a visitor/vendor policy requiring all visitors/vendors have their temperatures taken prior to entering the office, placed a limitation on the number of visitors allowed in the office at any given time, and encourages deliveries be dropped off at the entrance of the office. Additionally, the firm relaxed its vacation and sick policies and requires that employees stay home when not feeling well or to take care of dependents, including children and elderly parents. Also, because of health and safety concerns pertaining to travel, the firm has limited non-essential business travel and requires pre-approval for any business trips.

Regarding technology, from its inception the firm’s IT infrastructure has been progressive and cutting edge, including no in-office server. All the firm’s applications are cloud based. Through the implementation of Azure AD and Multi Factor Authentication the firm can provide a high level of security and management control for its IT environment. The firm also invested in upgrading computers for all employees. New laptops were issued to all employees with faster processors to allow employees to have the best possible remote work experience. The firm also implemented a policy to encourage employees to order office supplies for use at home, including stand up desks, dual monitors, printers, and standard office supplies. Lastly, the firm has started working on implementing regional work hubs and co-working spaces to provide more flexibility for employees.

 

Christian Bryan

Vice President of Global Real Estate

Alteryx

Has the company returned to the office? 

Our offices have been open since June for teams to use if they choose. Any official return to the office had been delayed until Jan. 3, 2022.

What is your vaccine and mask policy? 

We are following CDC and Cal/OSHA guidelines for employees in the office and wearing of a mask is recommended for all employees.

Have you made any changes to the office? 

We are in in the process of moving our offices to Spectrum Terrace, as such we have vacant desks in our current office at Park Place. This allows for employees who do come in to spread out organically. We sanitize every desk nightly to ensure it is available for use the next day by anyone who wants to use it.

Emile Haddad

Founder

FivePoint Holdings LLC 

Have your employees returned to the office? 

There are currently just four people working from our office full time, including myself, our COO, CFO and chief legal officer. We are waiting to see how current coronavirus trends play out before bringing everyone back. While the remote/hybrid model has worked well for us so far, I believe it is hard to maintain culture by being fully remote. Nothing can replace in-person connections and collaborations.

Have you made any changes to the office as a result of the pandemic? 

We designed this office with an emphasis on common areas; it’s an environment that encourages collaboration. One thing I will encourage more as people return to the office is outdoor meetings. I think walking meetings will be a great way to encourage employees to meet in a safe and active way.

Will you be requiring vaccination verification, testing, masks, etc.?

The vaccination discourse has been interesting. At first, I was somewhat in the camp of those who weren’t sure about getting the vaccine, but ultimately realized it was the smartest and safest decision for me and my family. While I will encourage employees to get the vaccine, I won’t mandate it. I’m more in favor of mandating masks in the office.  

JP Morgan Chase & Co.

Company Statement 

We cannot overstress the importance of getting vaccinated and the firm offers lots of information and tools to help.

For our U.S. locations, we will align with the CDC’s updated guidance and require all employees, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks in public indoor settings and in common areas within our offices. Given that the CDC has stated more than 80% of counties across the U.S. have substantial or high community transmission rates, we will follow this guidance nationally for the time being.

Mazda North American Operations

Company Statement 

MNAO is committed to providing workplace options to employees that enable them to optimize their productivity and work-life balance, while having access to the tools and resources necessary to effectively perform in their role. MNAO’s new ‘virtual first’ workplace model provides the ability for most positions in the organization to be performed remotely on a frequent or regular basis.

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