Many large companies plan to keep employees working from home for now

Companies in Texas can allow some workers back into their buildings. But many aren’t calling people back into the office yet.

Under guidelines from Gov. Greg Abbott, office-based employers can welcome back 25% of their total workforce or up to 10 people, whichever is greater. Those employees have to maintain social distancing and follow a long list of health and safety protocols.

Most companies that FOX 4 spoke to said it’s not worth the risk.

At Mr. Cooper Group, a Dallas-based mortgage lender, 97% of the nearly 7,000 employees have been working from home since mid-March even though as a financial services company it is considered an essential business.

“Our view on bringing people back into the office is really to be thoughtful about it,” said Kelly Ann Doherty, the chief people and communications officer at Mr. Cooper Group.

Doherty said the plan is to keep employees working remotely through the summer at least.

“We want to understand what going back to school looks like because a lot of our team members are working parents. And so we need to be mindful of what that impact is going to have on them and their ability to come into the office,” she said.

Mr. Cooper Group also wants to see how other companies handle the transition.

“We are looking to be a follower and not a leader in this regard,” Doherty said.

Many other large companies with offices in North Texas such as Capital One Bank and JP Morgan Chase plan to keep as many people as possible working from home at least through Labor Day.

At Toyota, 100% of non-essential employees are working remotely with no return date as of yet.

Once the company does decide, to bring people back, it will be over time in a phased approach.

“That’s safer staggering your workforce. Bringing them in short, small amounts at a time for short periods of time may be the best option here, especially since there’s a lot of unknowns out there and it’s safe to proceed with caution,” said Dr. Shantala Samart, the director of infection prevention at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.

Dr. Samart also recommends screening employees at the entrance, limiting visitors and vendors and regularly disinfecting high-touch areas like keyboards, phones and doorknobs.

Employees should also wear face masks and wash their hands frequently.

She said the biggest challenge in an office will be social distancing.

“It will be difficult to enforce that, which is why the use of cloth masks can be so helpful and important in that scenario,” Samart said. “The use of visual cues such as tape marks can help to enforce that six feet of social distance. Also, you know, physical barricades between employees in the workspace.”

“We’ve already mapped out our building. So we understand what it would look like to have six feet of social distance between people. How would cubicles be set up? How would we transform the floors? It’s going to look a lot different,” Doherty said.

Doherty believes the best defense against COVID-19 is keeping people home. And it’s an option that is working for Mr. Cooper Group.

“So our productivity numbers and our engagement numbers are in some cases actually higher than they were pre-COVID. And because of that, now we’re taking our time to not only think about how to phase them back into the office but how to really think about remote work long term,” she said.

Mr. Cooper Group actually formed a Return to Work taskforce that’s created the playbook for a safe return, including temperature check machines, an app that measures health and wellness and deep cleaning the office with a fogger machine on a regular basis.

It won’t be the same when people return and it might even be a little strange for many employees.

The companies are concerned about keeping their culture strong when people can’t interact the same way.

Doherty said at Mr. Cooper Group, they’ve increased communication by three times to make sure employees stay in the loop. They’ve also been doing some virtual team building activities and challenges to keep people connected.

She said a year from now, their workplace won’t the same but she’s confident it can be a change for the better.