As Covid-19 stretches into its third year, employers are weighing whether employees should go back to the office and, if so, how to execute the decision.
A spectrum of news sources shows an ambivalent, if even contentious, worker sentiment around going back to the office. Young people are resisting offices, and enforcing vaccine mandates presents another barrier. Meanwhile, established back-to-the-office dates are likely to be pushed as the Omicron variant sweeps more of the country. According to a March 2021 survey by Prudential of 2,000 full-time workers, 87% of remote workers wanted to work in the office at least one day a week, while 13% wanted to be back full-time. Currently, the dominant theme among corporate beauty offices in America is that of hybrid in-office schedules, with three days a week being the most common.
For example, Chantecaille employees went back to the company’s Nolita-based office in NYC three days a week in September, while Supergoop employees did the same in October and Billie personal care employees launched a three-day office schedule in November. Sylvie Chantecaille, founder and CEO of Chantecaille, said she noticed many people were voluntarily coming into the office throughout 2020 and decided to create a formalized system by September. Office hours are more flexible, with some people and teams working from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., for example, rather than the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. She said the company culture and creative environment are better with an in-person team, though a small handful of employees have moved outside of New York City and work remotely on a case-by-case basis. Chantecaille was acquired by Beiersdorf AG in a $590 million deal on Dec. 22.
“All over America, people are changing the way they’re thinking about work. And that can be bad, and that can be good,” Chantecaille said. “I don’t think my system would work on a company of 2,000 employees. We know each other very well at our company because there are not a lot of people.”
In addition to undergoing daily sanitizing, the 70-person office now features temperature checking at the door, partitions between desks and a requirement that employees wear masks when not sitting at their desks.
While Chantacaille’s office was open and rent was paid throughout 2020 and 2021, Billie opted to open a new 13,000-square-foot office in SoHo after being fully remote for nearly 20-months. The new office design was inspired by bathroom decor, with a curved tile wall at the entrance of the office and textured glass blocks that form the walls of conference rooms. It is an open concept, with a designated bathroom vanity area for the team to test new body care formulas. Before the pandemic, employees were in the office five days a week, but they worked from home from March 2020 to November 2021. Georgina Gooley, Billie co-founder and co-CEO, said that the official new company policy is to “work wherever you like.” She believes this flexibility is central to attracting and retaining employees today. But despite the flexibility, Gooley still felt it was essential to have a place for New York City-based employees to go to if they wanted. Notably, Billie was acquired by Edgewell Personal Care on Nov. 29.
About one-third of the brand’s approximately 80 full-time employees are in the New York area, and employees use desk-booking software Eden Workplace, so attendance can be capped at 30 people, if necessary. All meetings are assumed to be hybrid, with tech set up to accommodate Zoom calls within conference rooms to make it more seamless. Gooley said internal employee surveys informed the brand’s back-to-office decisions and that employees asked for informal places for collaboration, among the other aforementioned features.
“We wanted to create a work environment that allowed everyone to flourish, no matter what your working style is. At the end of the day, it’s not exactly about how you get the work done, but [instead] what work gets done,” she said. “[People] can do things in their own way so that work and life can coexist together.”
According to two internal memos from The Estée Lauder Companies sent to its U.S. workforce in September and October of this year, 6,000 full-time employees are expected to return to the office in a hybrid capacity beginning Jan. 31, 2022. Until then, employees are encouraged to work in the office voluntarily “while adhering to health and safety protocols,” the memo read. The office has a 30% capacity, and employees are required to make a reservation for their building and floor before coming to work at a New York-area corporate or brand office using a booking tool called My Safe Workplace. They’re also asked to complete a daily “Employee Health Verification” questionnaire. Since Nov. 1, office employees have been required to show their proof of vaccination.
“Using this time as an acclimation period to gradually build back to a hybrid schedule will help reinforce ELC’s high-touch and collaborative ways of working,” the memo read. As of Dec. 20, The Estée Lauder Companies did not have any updates.
Meanwhile, Heather Wallace, Revlon Inc.’s president of the Americas, said its leadership team evaluated its workforce and understood how impactful working from home had been to people’s work-life balance, especially for women and mothers.
“We stepped back and said, ‘If we’re a company that is all about supporting women and selling products to women, we have to be a company inside that is supporting families in a way that we all feel good about,'” Wallace said at the Glossy Beauty Summit in November.
The resulting hybrid work schedule is designed around “moments that matter,” meaning that individual teams get to decide when it makes sense for them to meet in person. As of Fall 2021, teams create calendars around such moments so that Revlon Inc. can design Covid-19 safe spaces and protocols.
But there are a few standout brands that have gone fully remote. In July, Tula allowed any vaccinated employee to return to the New York office. Still, an absence of attendance led Savannah Sachs, CEO of Tula, to determine that closing the office was a better choice. In 2022 she wants to open a hybrid office, showroom and event space with quarterly on-site meetings for individual teams and biannual company-wide meetups. The company is now hiring employees from across the country. Ilia CEO Lynda Berkowitz also expressed interest in a hybrid office, showroom and event space, according to Glossy’s previous reporting. The Laguna Beach, Calif.-based company has also started to hire nationwide.
“Our eyes have been opened to how productive it can be working remotely,” said Berkowitz. “There are some logistical challenges that we have to work out when half the people are in a room and half are on Zoom, but we’re happy to tackle that.”