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Local businesses debate bringing employees back to the office

Both restaurants rely on the business crowd for a boost to their lunch hour sales.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With COVID cases rising,  a surging Delta variant, and changing guidance from local, state, and federal leaders, prompted many Charlotte-area businesses to alter their return-to-work plans and in-office policies.

“The hope is that by early fall they come back to the office,” said Lynn Allen, the General Manager of Napa, a bistro and wine bar with locations in Dilworth and Fort Mill.

Both restaurants rely on the business crowd for a boost to their lunch hour sales.

At the live, work, play community of Kingsley in Fort Mill, Allen said they are anticipating the return to the office within the next few weeks for several of the larger neighboring businesses like LPL Financial and Lash Group.

“That will absolutely boost our sales in a positive direction,” she said.

A survey of nearly 90 Charlotte area businesses conducted in June by the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance found that most of the companies have already returned 50% or more of their staff to the office at least part-time. The majority of the remaining companies are targeting September for a return.
The CRBA survey comprised of companies with just one or two employees to more than 500.

The staff worked with community stakeholders to create the survey after noticing a gap in the local market for information that could help the business community make informed decisions, Burton said.

The result, Burton said, is a trend toward more flexibility for in-office and remote work options.

“It really seems like a hybrid model is where the market is going,” said Antony Burton, Vice President of Economic Research for the CRBA.

Pre-COVID, a small minority had more than 20% of their workforce on a hybrid work model, Burton said. In the future, about 50% expect to have more than 20% of their workforce in a hybrid model, the survey revealed.
However, Burton cautioned, many of those plans are subject to change.

“I’m sure companies will have to be flexible,” he said.

Rising COVID cases in the community and changing guidance from health officials were the top two reasons businesses stated would alter their return-to-office plans.

The Charlotte area has seen both of those things happen within the last two weeks.

WCNC Charlotte reached out to some of the largest employers in the area and learned that several have modified their office policies.

Duke, Honeywell, and Lowe’s all made recent modifications that include mandatory face coverings for vaccinated and non-vaccinated staff.

Honeywell, which has already returned most of its staff on a hybrid model, is now making the return to the office optional for all employees for now.
Burton called the shared plans “valuable” for the greater business community.

“A lot of companies are kind of reliant on employees coming back to the workforce or back to the workplace,” Burton said. “Existing businesses in the region want to get a sense of what other people are doing and planning.”

Burton said it is also valuable for outside companies that are considering relocating to Charlotte.

“This is helpful to give them an idea of how our market is transitioning,” Burton said.

The survey also found that businesses remain hesitant about resuming travel. They are also slow to reduce their office footprint, despite requiring fewer people to work in traditional spaces.

Below are statements from Duke Energy, Lowe's and Honeywell: 

Duke Energy's statement:

 "At this time, there’s no change to our return to office timeline. Our current plans are that we plan to return employees in phases starting in September to coincide with the school year. As a reminder, approximately 90% of our office workers continue to work remotely. However, based on the recommendations from last week, all employees, regardless of vaccination status, are now required to wear a face-covering indoors when social distancing is not possible. Employees must also wear face coverings when entering, exiting, and walking within a facility and in common areas. We currently do not track or verify vaccination status, but we’re evaluating options for future tracking to identify those individuals who may qualify for relaxed face-covering requirements if guidelines are adjusted. The safety and well-being of our employees and customers is our top priority, and we’ll continue monitoring CDC guidance, COVID-19 trends, and federal/state/local guidelines to drive our decisions."

LOWE'S statement: 

 “The health and safety of our associates and customers continue to be our highest priority. Because of the increased cases of COVID-19 and the rapid spread of the delta variant, effective August 2, Lowe’s associates are required to wear masks indoors at all U.S. locations and while working in a customer’s home or business – regardless of vaccination status. Lowe’s will continue to abide by all state and local mask mandates. Stores will have signs encouraging customers to wear masks, and free masks will continue to be available for customers who request them.”

Honeywell's statement:  

"Honeywell has revised its policies for U.S. non-manufacturing employees to reflect the recent increase in COVID-19 case rates and the CDC’s recommendation that all people, including those who are fully vaccinated, wear a mask in indoor settings. Starting in August, most U.S. non-manufacturing employees have the option of either working from their assigned office or from home. We will continue to monitor the situation and adjust our policies as necessary to ensure the ongoing well-being of our workforce. We also continue to actively encourage those who are able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to strongly consider doing so."


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