Editorial: Bringing workers back (safely) will benefit companies, city

Keywords Editorials / Opinion

Indianapolis Public Schools announced this week it will start bringing students back to school in October, using a phased-in approach that focuses first on getting younger kids back in the classroom, with older students using a hybrid model to start.

It’s an important move for the district and community. Certainly, there are IPS students who have technology at home and parents who can work from home to make remote education successful. But there are others—far too many—whose homes do not have high-speed internet or whose parents have had to choose between going to work and quitting to stay home with children.

Yes, there will be risks to putting students back in the classroom, but we agree with IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson that, at the moment, the benefits outweigh those risks.

One of those benefits is freeing more parents to go back to work—whether that be in restaurants, manufacturing plants or offices.

Of course, restaurants, manufacturers and other hands-on types of businesses have for some time now been back to their workplaces. But many companies that employ largely white-collar workers—desk jockeys, as they’re often called—have kept their offices closed or had employees return only on a voluntary basis.

IBJ is among them. Since July, IBJ employees have been allowed to come to the office—with restrictions, of course, based on whether they’ve had known exposure to COVID or are feeling ill—but they could also choose to continue working from home. Most have chosen the latter.

Major companies that include Salesforce, Eli Lilly and Co. and Cummins have largely kept their employees working remotely, with plans in some cases not to return until 2021.

We think it might be time to reconsider.

We don’t suggest that companies rush employees back to work all at once. Crowded offices with tightly packed desks would not likely be safe—and would rightly be frustrating and concerning to workers. But bringing employees back in some phased way could begin to ease the transition back to the office—a transition that is likely to have some anxiety, whether that is concern about COVID or just readjusting to commuting and office work after months at home.

So why now?

At IBJ’s Commercial Real Estate & Construction (virtual) Power Breakfast last week, panelists said employers they work with are eager to bring workers back to the office. They said companies are missing the collaboration and culture that come with working—at least some of the time—in shared space.

And we think that’s important. For Indy’s employers—large and small—to remain strong, they need a working environment in which the most innovative ideas and strongest strategies emerge, and we believe for most firms, that’s tough to accomplish in a remote work environment.

There are ancillary benefits as well. More office employees will liven up the region’s business districts—downtown included—and support restaurants and retail.

So we challenge offices across central Indiana to rethink their reopening plans to see if it might be time for a phased return.•

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