Delta variant delays return of downtown Portland office workers


Portland’s South Park Blocks are often a gathering place for people who work downtown. But this summer, the tree-lined blocks are largely empty, with many office workers still working from home.

Hanin Najjar / OPB

The Delta variant is disrupting plans to return to the office of companies everywhere, including downtown Portland, where more office workers were expected to return after Labor Day. Employers are now pushing back those plans – postponing, for now, the expected broader return of people who could help revitalize the city’s troubled core.

“We have postponed the official reopening of our offices until October due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant,” Bob Speltz, spokesperson for The Standard, said in an email.

The Standard Insurance Company is a mainstay of downtown employment. It had planned to officially reopen its offices on September 7 to one of its more than 2,000 downtown employees who wanted to work there. Employees can still enter, but the grand reopening is suspended.

“We will continue to monitor transmission of the virus and adjust plans accordingly,” Speltz wrote. “Our employees have been remarkably resilient and productive working remotely and we will also continue to allow this arrangement for many employees beyond October.”

Big tech companies like Google, which has an office downtown, have also pushed back their plans to return to work. More and more people are also requiring vaccination of office workers. And the news is changing day by day.

US Bank has approximately 3,800 employees in the Portland market, many of whom are typically based downtown. The company was also scheduled to reopen on September 7, forcing the “vast majority” of employees to start working on site three days a week.

Then the delta variant took off.

This week, US Bank postponed its general reopening until at least October.

Other companies still decide to go ahead or take a break. For them, the delta variant is the last challenge in a long process.

“It seems like dog years since we started this process to try and put our plans for returning to the office in place,” said Graciela Gomez Cowger, CEO of the law firm Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt, which has around 200 employees. based in its city center. Desk. “It’s hard to plan when the ground is moving beneath you and there are so many uncertainties and so much unknown. “

Schwabe opened its offices after July 4 for people who “were crying out for resuming their jobs.” The company also set September 7 as the date it would begin requiring work on site at least two days a week.

That date hasn’t changed yet, but it could.

Schwabe is tracking COVID-19 data from the four states where he has offices. Gomez Cowger said the company’s decision will focus on the health and safety of employees.

At the same time, she believes delays in reopening offices will affect the recovery of downtown Portland.

“And I’m not happy to see these delays, frankly. I wish we could move forward even more aggressively, ”she said. “It will take all of us to truly make a comeback to a vibrant city. “

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