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Back to the Office: Tough Call for Workers, and for the Boss

Jay Foreman, chief executive of the toymaker Basic Fun in Boca Raton, Fla., has a simple message for his employees: It’s time to come back to the office.

“Fear is not an appropriate reason for not being at work,” he said. “We have to get over our fears. We can’t operate remotely, and this is a collaborative work environment. I pay a hell of a lot of rent to have an office, and that’s a big investment.”

It may seem that Mr. Foreman is swimming against the tide. Corporate giants like Microsoft, Target and Ford Motor have extended remote working arrangements until next summer. But a recent survey by LinkedIn and Censuswide found that more than two-thirds of offices had reopened or never closed. Mr. Foreman is among the employers who don’t believe the coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally reordered the way millions of Americans should work.

They are recalling their employees even as the coronavirus surges in parts of the country, arguing that a balance can be struck between safety and the need to reunite under one roof.

At Basic Fun, masks are mandatory, desks are spread out and there are stations with hand sanitizer throughout the 20,000-square-foot office in the four-story building that is headquarters.

Last week, the last of the Basic Fun workers who had been at home returned to the office full time.

Some employees have come back eagerly after the distractions of working from home. Others have done so reluctantly after asking for a bit more time. And at least one has found another job rather than face returning to the office.

The divergent feelings echo larger patterns in the American workplace, even as a resurgence of the coronavirus engulfs the country. At some companies, a new dynamic is unfolding between those who are staying home and those who are venturing in every day.

A June survey by the accounting and consulting firm PwC found that 72 percent of workers would like to be able to work from home at least two days a week. And a majority expected to be able to work from home one day a week even after the pandemic.

But at Basic Fun, there is no longer any choice.

Mr. Foreman is not a mask doubter or a coronavirus skeptic. Nor is he a fan of President Trump, who has questioned the efficacy of masks and criticized the lockdowns that have forced many employees to work from home, whether they like it or not. He backed Senator Kamala Harris in the Democratic presidential primary, and supported former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the general election.

But he believes the necessary steps have been taken to ensure his workers’ safety.

“People can’t enter our office unless they are wearing a mask, they can’t walk around the office without a mask, they don’t gather in small groups without a mask and work spaces are more than six feet apart,” Mr. Foreman said. “I think it’s as safe as your own home.”

What’s more, he believes there are benefits to working together and meeting face to face that can’t be replicated through conference calls or online get-togethers. That applies to the 65 employees at headquarters in Boca Raton, as well as a dozen or so in an office in Quakertown, Pa., and 60 in Hong Kong.

“In early October, we sent a note saying this is it and that if you’re not in a position to come back to work, you’re going to need to remain on furlough or we will terminate your position,” Mr. Foreman said. “I had to put my foot down.”

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Credit…Ysa Pérez for The New York Times
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Credit…Ysa Pérez for The New York Times
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Credit…Ysa Pérez for The New York Times
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Credit…Ysa Pérez for The New York Times

“The stuff we make needs collaboration,” he said, describing the process of developing Basic Fun products like Tonka trucks, Care Bears, Lincoln Logs and K’nex building toys. “You need to hold it in your hand. If you’re trying to connect through Zoom or sending samples via FedEx, it’s inefficient.”

By the time Florida’s lockdown was eased in late spring, Mr. Foreman had come to the conclusion that with the right safeguards in place, having his employees back in the office wasn’t going to endanger them. He said he had reviewed the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and consulted with health experts before reopening. Even so, it was not an easy decision.

“It was brutal — I had so many sleepless nights,” he said. “Was I doing the right thing or the wrong thing? It was a big internal battle.” Ultimately, he decided to begin urging workers to come back in June, while allowing people with extenuating circumstances like health problems or an ill relative stay home.

“We didn’t have to use undue pressure, but I didn’t want to be in a position to have people working from home for a year and a half,” Mr. Foreman said. “That wouldn’t be fair to the people working in the office. And I can’t manage the company through each employee’s individual fears and apprehensions.”

Steve Cantrell, director of creative services at Basic Fun, wasn’t ready to return. His daughter has Type 1 diabetes, and Mr. Cantrell and his wife were concerned he might catch the coronavirus from a colleague and expose his daughter to it. Mr. Cantrell was able to put off going back for five weeks.

“They bent for me, and I bent for them and eventually came back,” Mr. Cantrell said. “It was worse sitting home and thinking about it. If we’re wearing masks and not coming within five feet of each other, we’re safe. I didn’t want to come back, but it’s nice to get back to the routine and normalcy.”

A few employees were eager to come back and felt reassured by the steps the company took to protect them, like the barriers for cubicles and the rules mandating masks.

“If they hadn’t made it safe, I definitely would not have come back to the office,” said Karen Sullivan, sales coordinator at Basic Fun. “But I live in a small two-bedroom place, and it just wasn’t comfortable working from home. I was working off a card table.”

Like many workers, she missed face-to-face contact with colleagues, despite the risks. “I needed more of the office interaction,” Ms. Sullivan said. “Not everybody felt that way.”

One of the doubters was Meisha-Gaye Cobham, who had worked as a project manager at Basic Fun for three years. She was supposed to have gone back to the office in August, but after her husband was found to have prostate cancer in July, she felt it was safer for him if she continued to work from home.

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Credit…Ysa Pérez for The New York Times

The company gave her more time, but when she received calls in August and September asking when she was going to come back, Ms. Cobham knew she had a decision to make. The deadline of Nov. 2 to return only solidified her decision to look for another job where she could remain at home.

“It was a roller coaster for me,” she said. “I enjoyed my job, and I enjoyed the industry. But I had to put my family first. And when I found a company with a work-from-home policy that paid more money, it was a no-brainer.”

“I would have stayed if they’d let me continue to work from home,” she added. “But their policy is their policy, and I just had to accept they don’t believe in working from home.”

Despite the reluctance of employees like Ms. Cobham to return — and the rise in coronavirus cases — Mr. Foreman is confident he made the right decision. “Other than being alone in their car, I guarantee my employees there is no safer place than our office,” he said.

In the meantime, Mr. Foreman has allowed employees to work from home on Fridays, which he believes reduces stress. But there is no substitute for meeting in person the rest of the time, he said.

“When you think about making a toy, somebody has to present an idea, then somebody has to design the toy, another person creates the package and someone has to sell it then ship it,” he said. “That’s collaborative and how it’s always been done. Working from home is an experiment, and I’m not ready to risk my business on an experiment.”

“We’re back together working as a team,” he said. Mr. Foreman expects the effects of the coronavirus pandemic to continue for another year, at least, “but there is no way business will be able to be as efficient working from home as when employees are working together.”

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The Digital Nomads Did Not Prepare for This

For a certain kind of worker, the pandemic presented a rupture in the space-time-career continuum. Many Americans were stuck, tied down by children or lost income or obligations to take care of the sick. But for those who were unencumbered, with steady jobs that were doable from anywhere, it was a moment to grab destiny and bend employment to their favor.

Their logic was as enviable as it was unattainable for everyone else: If you’re going to work from home indefinitely, why not make a new home in an exotic place? This tiny cohort gathered their MacBooks, passports and N95 masks and became digital nomads.

They Instagrammed their workdays from empty beach resorts in Bali and took Zoom meetings from tricked-out camper vans. They made balcony offices at cheap Tulum Airbnbs and booked state park campsites with Wi-Fi. They were the kind of people who actually applied to those remote worker visa programs heavily advertised by Caribbean countries. And occasionally they were deflated.

David Malka, an entrepreneur in Los Angeles, had heard from friends who were living their best work-abroad lives. In June, he created a plan: He and his girlfriend would work from Amsterdam, with a quick stop at a discounted resort in Mexico along the way.

The first snag happened almost immediately. In Cabo San Lucas, Mr. Malka and his girlfriend realized that the European Union wasn’t about to reopen its borders to American travelers, as they had hoped. Returning to the United States wasn’t an option: Mr. Malka’s girlfriend was from the United Kingdom, and her visa wouldn’t allow it.

The two decided to stay in Mexico a bit longer. At first it was glamorous, Mr. Malka said. Working by laptop — he manages a portfolio of vacation rental properties — they had the resort to themselves. But by the second week, their situation began to feel like “Groundhog Day.” The city and the beach were closed, so the couple never left the resort. Meanwhile, the travel shutdown was hammering his business.

“All we could do is sit by the pool or go to the gym,” Mr. Malka said. The repetition, boredom and isolation all wore on them.

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Credit…David Malka

Eventually, the couple took a 28-hour, two-layover trip to Amsterdam, where Mr. Malka was indeed turned away at customs. They retreated to London, where they promptly broke up.

He has been there since. “Cold, raining, depressing,” he said. “Those are the first three adjectives that come to mind.”

Now Mr. Malka is trying to figure out how to get to Bali — it’s technically closed to visitors, but he heard about a special visa that can be rushed for $800 — or use his ancestry to obtain Portuguese citizenship. It’s a lot of logistics.

“I have PTSD planning my next month,” he said.

Mr. Malka is far from the only Covid nomad to stumble on the road. It turns out there are drawbacks the trend stories and Instagram posts didn’t share. Tax things. Red-tape things. Wi-Fi rage things. Closed border things. The kinds of things one might gloss over when making an emotional, quarantine-addled decision to pack up an apartment and book a one-way ticket to Panama or Montreal or Kathmandu.

Americans have never been especially good at vacation. Before Covid-19, they were leaving unused hundreds of millions of paid days off. They even created a work-vacation hybrid — the workation. The idea: Travel to a nice place, work during the day and then, in theory, enjoy the scenery in the off hours. In pandemic times, the digital nomads have simply made workation a permanent state.

The bad news is it’s the worst of both worlds. They should be enjoying themselves in their new, beautiful surroundings. But they can’t enjoy themselves, because work beckons. The anxious self-optimization pingpongs between “Why aren’t I living my best life?” and “Why aren’t I killing it at work?”

Katie Smith-Adair and her husband run PlaceInvaders, an event company in Los Alamos, Calif. When the pandemic halted business, they packed up their Volvo with a tent and an outdoor shower for a monthlong camping road trip around the West. All the while, she worked 40 hours a week trying to set up PlaceInvaders for virtual events.

The first lesson learned? Never trust campground Wi-Fi. The second? Expect judgment from campground workers for needing the Wi-Fi.

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Credit…Hagan Blount

“They make you feel bad because you’re not unplugging and getting into nature,” Ms. Smith-Adair said. “This is my job. I want to unplug, but I also have to get on that Zoom call real quick.” At an R.V. park near Boise, Idaho, she noticed a Wi-Fi hot spot whose name was the equivalent of a middle finger directed at all Californians.

Ms. Smith-Adair’s office became a folding chair on the sidewalk outside whatever McDonald’s or Starbucks was nearby. It wasn’t exactly a peaceful commune with the redwoods. During one curbside conference call in Eugene, Ore., a nearby man with a weed whacker began roaring his motor. Ms. Adair-Smith told him that she was trying to salvage her career. He didn’t care.

When digital nomads do manage to indulge in the splendors of their new homes, they can experience another, more psychic toll: the haters. Austin Mao, a short-term-rental operator in Las Vegas, posted on Facebook about escaping to Costa Rica with his wife in March, and was surprised to receive a flood of angry comments. People accused of him spreading Covid. They were outraged that he had abandoned his country. One person even unfriended him.

After the haters, Mr. Mao said, came the guilt. During the pandemic, he and some friends have kept in touch via monthly Zoom calls. The conversations have a structure: The friends take turns describing what’s going well and not so well in their lives, which they refer to as their “top 5 percent” and “bottom 5 percent.” In Costa Rica, Mr. Mao would share tales of eating fish he had caught himself and diving with whales and sharks. He was living in a beachfront jungle villa where monkeys would knock coconuts from the trees, and he would chop them open with a machete, savoring the fresh juice.

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Credit…Austin Mao

His friends, who were quarantining in the United States, had no such wealth of material. Their stories rarely changed. “They would frequently say, ‘I don’t have a top 5 or bottom 5. My life is kind of blasé,’” Mr. Mao said. “It felt like I was cheating.”

After six months, Mr. Mao and his wife, Chuchu Wang, needed to return to the United States for her to keep her green card. He noticed a change: The Facebook friends who had taken out their coronavirus-rage on him came around. Now, Mr. Mao said, they’re asking him how they can pull off a similar escape.

Perhaps the worst potential outcome not advertised by those who’ve escaped: You and your employer could end up in tax audit hell.

Lots of American travelers try to use a tax rule that carves out exemptions for Americans living abroad. But it requires being out of the country 330 full days of the year, not counting travel. Messing it up brings severe penalties.

“It’s the intermittent fasting of taxes,” said Alexander Stylianoudis, the general counsel at WiFi Tribe, a group that helps facilitate travel for 900 digital nomads. “Everyone talks about it, and everyone does it wrong.” The number of mistakes he has seen since the pandemic has multiplied, Mr. Stylianoudis said.

Some workers have avoided that by simply forgetting to mention their location to their employers — the “don’t ask, don’t tell” of remote pandemic work. Others have been honest and lived to regret it. One employee of a publicly traded tech company, went to Canada when her office closed in March. In September, two weeks after a promotion, the company suddenly told her that she had to return to the United States within two weeks or resign. The reason, she was informed, was to avoid paying foreign taxes. (She asked that her name be withheld because the situation is unresolved.)

Other employers are trying to decide where to draw the line. Leigh Drogen, the chief executive of Estimize, a fintech start-up, said he had discouraged an employee’s request to bounce around from country to country for a full year, but had given permission for the worker to go to Spain for six months. Estimize’s oversight of its staff is already “thin,” Mr. Drogen said, and he worried about the employee’s ability to focus while moving around.

“You work best when you’re in one place,” he said.

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Credit…Austin Mao

There are also visa issues. In years past, digital nomads would cross and recross borders as needed to avoid overstaying. That’s not so easy in a closed-border pandemic.

In March, Ryan McCumber, a business consultant, was stuck in Portugal. He had been traveling in Europe, and a comedy of errors and the sudden continentwide lockdown stranded him in a beach town, Algarve, with just four days of clothes while his dog and the rest of his luggage remained in Warsaw, a previous stop.

The pandemic made his conference business nonviable, so while in Portugal he decided to create a start-up accelerator focused on sports technology. The biggest challenge, Mr. McCumber said, was not making his partners in the United States too jealous while he took calls from the beach.

Although a mugger assaulted him, giving him 15 stitches and a scar above his eye, he fell in love with Portugal’s cheap sangrias and ocean air, and in early summer, when his airline finally offered him a flight home, he didn’t want to leave. With his visa already expired, Mr. McCumber went to the immigration bureau and asked for political asylum.

“I said, ‘Trump’s a dictator, my city is burning, and people are dying,’” he said, citing the president, protests against police violence and the virus. “They made a joke that I was the first person since the Vietnam War from America to ask for that.”

The government workers laughed, he said, and then approved an extension through the end of October. (Mr. McCumber has since returned to the United States.)

Others are struggling with the same vacation fatigue experienced by Mr. Malka, the Cabo-to-London-to-maybe-Bali wanderer. According to research conducted at Radboud University in the Netherlands, it takes eight days of vacation for people to reach peak happiness. It’s downhill from there.

When the pandemic hit, Mr. Stylianoudis, the lawyer, was on the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand. At first, he couldn’t complain about the tropical locale. Each day, after work, he swam in crystal-clear water. But after five months, he was itching to get out. He had become a regular at the island’s 7-Eleven. He even grew tired of the beach — something he hadn’t thought was possible.

The feeling of being trapped in paradise was hard to explain. “I started to feel like I was in a sequel of ‘Lost,’” he said.

This summer, Katie Jacobs Stanton, a venture capital investor living in Los Altos, Calif., saw her moment for a fresh start. She was about to become an empty nester, with two children in college and another taking a gap year. Her father had died of Covid, and being alone at home, especially amid California’s wildfires, was too depressing. Figuring she could find venture investments and strike deals from anywhere, she decided to take a gap year of her own.

In August, Ms. Jacobs Stanton gave away most of her possessions, bought a Tesla and prepared to hit the open road with Taco, her golden retriever. “I had this image of a glorious, beautiful American landscape and mom-and-pop, Main Street U.S.A.,” she said.

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Credit…Katie Jacobs Stanton

She found a different reality. First, someone stole her Tesla. (The police recovered it.) Then her first stop, Reno, was grim. “It’s a very sad city,” she said. In Tahoe, wildfires raged. In Bozeman, Mont., Taco became sick. A trip to a veterinarian led to emergency surgery; Taco had eaten a tube sock.

Then came Kanye West. In September, Ms. Jacobs Stanton had a phone call with the hip-hop artist about a possible venture in the music business, which he mentioned on Twitter. Name-checking her set off “one of the most bananas days in my life,” she said. Ms. Jacobs Stanton was overwhelmed with messages, but on the plus side, the episode prompted all three of her children to call and check in.

She froze while camping in snowy Yellowstone and stressed over the icy roads. Then her daughter in college got the coronavirus, and Taco needed more surgery. (Both recovered.) On top of it all, people in small towns she visited didn’t wear masks and were hostile about it.

By late October, she was ready to call her gap year short. “I think I just want to go back home,” she said. “No more road trips for Katie Stanton.”

More formal workation getaways are bubbling up, particularly in the tech industry, which spawned tools like Zoom and Slack and has been the fastest to let employees relocate in the pandemic.

Over the summer, Michael Houck, a former product manager at Airbnb and Uber in San Francisco, invited a group of 18 entrepreneurs to work out of a rented Mexican mansion in Tulum. He called it Launch House. For a month, he and the crew posted photos of themselves scuba diving, sharing meals and using their laptops at the beach.

When a second group of entrepreneurs arrived in late October, Mr. Houck upgraded to a house with faster Wi-Fi, along with a private chef, a housekeeper and whiteboards in the pool for “poolstorms” — brainstorming sessions in the water.

The goal, Mr. Houck said, was to help founders release new apps and software. “We’re not going out and partying in Tulum or going to the clubs,” he said. “We work from the beach, work from the house.”

They couldn’t work from anywhere when a tropical storm and a hurricane cut the power. “Realistically, in places like Tulum, there’s always a chance the Wi-Fi will go out,” Mr. Houck said. “That’s a trade-off you make.”

The much riskier trade-off, of course, is the pandemic. Three people in the first group, who Mr. Houck said had violated house rules and spent time with outsiders, got the virus. The second batch of entrepreneurs was told they would be evicted if they threatened the group’s safety.

It is a reminder of the steep risks taken by the Covid Carpe Diem set. The reason this once-a-generation moment exists is the same reason most of us can’t go into the office or take a real vacation or eat inside a restaurant. Traveling risks sickness. Seizing the day risks sickness.

In October, Brett Martin, a venture capital investor, had a heart-to-heart Zoom call with four friends — a Bitcoin trader, a writer, an entrepreneur and an architect. Until then, the group had been making plans to move to what they described as a “time-share commune” in Costa Rica from November to March.

The rules had been set: They would buy health insurance through Costa Rica’s government. They would go on a “visa run” to Nicaragua halfway through to stamp their passports. No indoor dining. No work or conference calls from the main living area. Groceries would be delivered. Visitors would be allowed by group consent only.

But one issue remained. “Getting really sick far away from home in a place where you don’t speak the language and being alone and helpless — that’s everyone’s fear,” Mr. Martin said.

On the Zoom call, they decided: No man left behind. “If someone gets sick, this is like a family,” Mr. Martin said. (Just in case, he’s done two months of Duolingo.)

He acknowledged that the setup could easily turn sour. Members of the group will have to adjust to having roommates again. The internet could go out. The price of Bitcoin could tank. He had to perfectly time a coronavirus test to get results 72 hours before flying. But after seven months of quarantine, he said, it was worth the risk.

“The prospect of waking up at 6 in my studio apartment in New York, exercising, sitting down at my laptop for 10 to 12 hours, closing it, staring at the wall, then opening it again to watch Netflix for the rest of the night——” he trailed off. “It sounded literally dangerous to my health.”

He got to Costa Rica in early November. It has poured rain every day. “Spirits,” he said, “are still high.”

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July Is the New January: More Companies Delay Return to the Office

When the coronavirus pandemic shuttered offices around the United States in March, many companies told their employees that it would be only a short hiatus away from headquarters.

Workers, they said, would be back in their cubicles within a matter of weeks. Weeks turned into September. Then September turned into January. And now, with the virus still surging in some parts of the country, a growing number of employers are delaying return-to-office dates once again, to the summer of 2021 at the earliest.

Google was one of the first to announce that July 2021 was its return-to-office date. Uber, Slack and Airbnb soon jumped on the bandwagon. In the past week, Microsoft, Target, Ford Motor and The New York Times said they, too, had postponed the return of in-person work to next summer and acknowledged the inevitable: The pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon.

“Let’s just bite the bullet,” said Joan Burke, the chief people officer of DocuSign in San Francisco. In August, her company, which manages electronic document signatures, decided it would allow its 5,200 employees to work from home until June 2021.

“We’re still in a place where this is evolving,” she said. “None of us have all the answers.”

Many more companies are expected to delay their return-to-office dates to keep workers safe. And workers said they were in no rush to go back, with 73 percent of U.S. employees fearing that being in their workplace could pose a risk to their personal health and safety, according to a study by Wakefield Research commissioned by Envoy, a workplace technology company.

More companies are also saying that they will institute permanent work-from-home policies so employees do not ever have to come into the office again.

In May, Facebook was one of the first to announce that it would allow many employees to work remotely even after the pandemic. Twitter, Coinbase and Shopify have also said they would do so. On Friday, Microsoft announced it would also be part of that shift.

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Credit…Stuart Isett for The New York Times

The elongating timelines and changing policies add up to a continued balancing act for companies as the coronavirus shatters work norms and upends assumptions about where workers need to be to achieve maximum productivity. Employers are also under pressure to be as open as possible about their intentions so that workers can plan ahead with their lives.

The postponement of return dates is a “psychological blow for those who expected this to be a transition phase,” said Tsedal Neeley, a Harvard Business School professor who studies remote work. “The reality is hitting that, ‘There won’t be a vaccine as I expected very quickly. This is going to be my life, and I’d better learn how to do this.’”

Dr. Neeley likened the situation to waiting at an airport terminal for a flight that is continually delayed. With the new dates announced, she said, people can finally start adjusting from a temporary “grinning and bear it” approach to a permanent shift.

Successful companies “have begun to think about long-term strategy rather than ‘Let’s just survive our crisis,’” she said.

Much of corporate America is now following the lead of Silicon Valley tech companies like Google and Facebook. They were among those that allowed employees to work from home even before the pandemic hit in full force in March. Since then, Facebook has set the tone in planning for permanent remote work, while Google established the July 2021 target date for returning to the office.

“I hope this will offer the flexibility you need to balance work with taking care of yourselves and your loved ones over the next 12 months,” Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, wrote in an email to employees about the July 2021 date.

Other employers soon emulated the tech giants, also citing worker flexibility as a key factor in pushing their return-to-office dates to next summer.

Ms. Burke, the DocuSign executive, said announcing the June 2021 return date to employees prompted a “collective sigh of relief inside the company” because it put an end to the incremental postponements and uncertainty of when they would be expected to return.

Remote work has been productive, she said, and people like not having to commute. But a mix of in-person and remote is probably the most popular option for employees when life returns to normal, she said, because they also miss the social interaction of an office space.

Zoom “is not the same thing, and it’s exhausting,” Ms. Burke said. “By 7 o’clock last night, I was Zoomed out.”

Other companies that have delayed their returns to the office until next summer often face a more complicated decision because their work forces are not just made up of white-collar engineers, unlike those of internet companies.

Ford said last week that its decision to hold off on back in-person office work through June 2021 would apply to its roughly 32,000 employees in North America who are already working remotely. The company, which has about 188,000 employees, said the policy does not apply to factory staff.

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Credit…Aaron P/Bauer-Griffin, via Getty Images

When Target announced its decision to let some employees continue to work at home through June 2021 in a letter to staff last week, it said it would apply just to employees at its headquarters in Minneapolis. The company said a small number of employees who rely on the headquarters facilities would continue to work on-site. In-store employees will work in retail stores as usual.

Some companies that have already tried bringing employees back to the office have grappled with safety concerns. Last month, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase sent some workers back home after employees who had returned to the office tested positive for the virus.

Tech companies have also been at the forefront of permanent work-from-home policies because digital work is often simpler for people to conduct via laptops and teleconferences than by being on site.

Slack told employees — many of them engineers — in early August that its offices would remain closed until June 2021 and that it was considering permanent work-from-home, a decision partly driven by how productive its employees have been remotely, said Robby Kwok, the chief of staff to Slack’s chief executive.

“I do think this flexibility that employers are giving to employees about not needing to come into the office five days a week is going to be extremely beneficial for productivity, for engagement,” Mr. Kwok said.

Even when the pandemic subsides, 72 percent of Slack employees surveyed said, they preferred that the company allow a mix of at-home and office work. Slack operates a messaging platform used by many businesses.

Still, some tech companies have reservations about embracing permanent remote work and what might be lost in the process. Rapid7, a cybersecurity company in Boston, has told its more than 1,600 employees that they would continue to work from home through the beginning of 2021. But the company said it does its best work through in-person collaboration, and the pandemic has not changed that.

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Credit…Carlos Chavarría for The New York Times

“We know we are not meant to be 100 percent remote,” said Christina Luconi, the company’s chief people officer. “We will all go back to the office” when it is safe to do so, she said.

A push to all-company remote work can be particularly difficult for companies with predominantly young work forces, said Andy Eichfeld, the chief human resources and administrative officer at the credit card company Discover, which told employees on Sept. 29 that they would not need to return to the office before June 2021.

“A younger person needs apprenticeship in the first 10 or 15 years of their career,” Mr. Eichfeld said. “And we know how to deliver that in person. I’m not sure apprenticeship happens remotely.”

For some workers, the return date of next summer and the idea of permanent work from home is a mixed blessing.

When Colin Fahrion, a digital communications specialist for the University of California, San Francisco, found out in June that he would not need to return to the office until at least July 2021, he moved 15 miles farther away from San Francisco, from Richmond to Vallejo, about 30 miles outside the city, and bought a house.

Mr. Fahrion, 47, now has a dedicated office space and a backyard where his dog can play, and he has talked to his supervisor about working remotely on a permanent basis. Still, he finds Zoom meetings to be devoid of collaborative energy.

“I miss my co-workers,” he said.

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Indians Firms May Benefit From Trump’s H-1B Limits

When President Trump suspended a raft of visa programs in June, including temporary permits for highly technical foreign workers known as H-1B visas, he portrayed the order as a victory for the American work force. Further overhauls were in the works, he said weeks later, “so that no American worker is replaced ever again.”

The order is now in front of the courts, after a judge on Thursday blocked the order and ruled that Mr. Trump had overstepped his authority. The move will allow some companies, like Microsoft and Exxon Mobil, to bring temporary workers into the United States again. The issue will now go to an appeals court, which may rule in favor of Mr. Trump’s sweeping order.

But the fate of the program still remains in doubt. The Department of Homeland Security has submitted a new regulation for federal review that would toughen H-1B eligibility and impose new obligations on the companies trying to bring in foreign workers.

The uncertainty has thrown the plans of major companies in doubt and has already disrupted the lives of thousands of foreign workers, particularly those from India, who claim more than two-thirds of the H-1B visas issued each year.

The confusion might all be in vain, however. Experts say restrictions will do little to accomplish their stated goal of encouraging companies to hire Americans instead of workers from abroad. In fact, limits on H-1B visas may have the unintended effect of spurring American companies to shift even more work abroad.

Already, Indian outsourcing companies are working to cast the new restrictions as an opportunity to do just that.

“In America, there is a genius mix of homegrown and transplanted talent. The high level of global competition gives America its tech edge,” said Sandeep Kishore, the chief executive officer of Zensar Technologies, an Indian firm that employs more than 9,500 people globally.

More than 400 are on work visas in Zensar’s offices in the United States, he said, but more work could drift to India if companies cannot hire who they want.

The United States “risks giving up its edge,” Mr. Kishore said. “If we can’t bring this talent into the U.S., we’ll place them in our offices overseas.”

The pandemic, which has forced millions to work from home, could reinforce the idea that more American jobs can be done remotely.

The June suspension did not affect the foreign workers already in the United States on H-1B visas. But it upended the lives of those who were outside the country when the president issued his suspension.

Sonal Thakkar, a lead consultant at an Indian information technology firm in San Jose, Calif., rushed back to India last year to apply for an extension of her visa.

In March, her visa interview was canceled after India’s government imposed a nationwide lockdown to stop the coronavirus. Then, Mr. Trump’s suspension came.

This week, Ms. Thakkar received an email from the office of the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai, saying her visa application had been “refused” and sent for “mandatory administrative processing.” It’s a process that could take months and she fears she could still be denied a visa after that.

Now, Ms. Thakkar is not sure when she can return to the United States and her husband, who is still in San Jose on an H-1B visa.

“I can’t sleep at night,” she said. “We’ve been together for six years. I am losing so many memories and I’m unable to create new ones.”

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Credit…Sonal Thakkar

An executive at Infosys, one of India’s biggest technology companies, said in a LinkedIn post that it arranged a chartered flight to bring back more than 200 workers and their families to India, after their American visas expired. The company declined to comment.

Even before Mr. Trump’s election, limiting the H-1B program had won some bipartisan support. The program allows companies to bring in well-educated or technically skilled workers from abroad temporarily. About 65,000 candidates are selected each year by lottery. The workers can bring their families, but they must apply for green cards separately if they want to remain in the United States once their work ends.

Some labor groups say companies use the program to bring in cheap labor. Often, they say, H-1B visa holders are not stars in their fields but hold skills that can be easily found domestically.

“There are very few people in this world who are truly innovative, and our economy depends on them,” said Russell Harrison, the director of government relations for the IEEE-USA, an association representing more than 170,000 technology professionals that supports H-1B restrictions.

Sensitive to the criticism, Indian outsourcing companies have long stressed plans to hire in the United States. In early September, Infosys announced it would hire 12,000 more Americans over the next two years.

Indian outsourcing companies dominated the H-1B lottery a decade ago, but sponsors now include some of the biggest names in American technology. Seven of the top 10 sponsors last year were American, including Amazon and Google, according to official citizenship data. About 15 percent of Facebook’s employees are H-1B holders.

If the government considerably limits the number of H-1B workers they can bring in, companies may send the work overseas instead.

“The work will go to India more because there is an abundance of high-quality college-educated tech labor in India,” said William Lazonick, an economist and professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, who has studied the globalization of business. “It is obviously an advantage if that higher-quality labor force is less expensive to employ than workers in the company’s home country.”

Research is scant, but at least one study has found that limits on H-1B visas lead to more hiring overseas. The study, by Britta Glennon, an assistant professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, compared periods of tightened H-1B restrictions with hiring by major firms and found greater hiring in places like China and India, which have a large pool of skilled workers, and Canada, which has looser immigration policies.

Like industries around the globe, the outsourcing business took a substantial hit during the coronavirus pandemic. The troubles were particularly acute in India, where many workers lack the equipment or the internet connections to work from home.

Tech companies struggled to source hundreds of thousands of laptops in the early weeks of the pandemic. They sent desktop computers to workers’ homes and enabled firewalls to fend off cyberattacks.

At Tata Consultancy Services, India’s largest information technology firm with more than 400,000 workers globally, these responsibilities fell on the shoulders of Amit Jain, the global head of I.T. infrastructure, based in Mumbai.

Mr. Jain, who worked at the company for 32 years, died in March after suffering a heart attack.

Image

Credit…The Jain family.

“He was overworked and extremely exhausted,” said his brother, Mukul Jain. “He told me he hadn’t slept in two to three days because he was helping employees in India, Europe and the U.S. to work from home.”

T.C.S. declined to comment about Mr. Jain’s death. A public relations firm that represents the company said that about 95 percent of T.C.S. employees were now working remotely.

Now India’s outsourcing companies are seeing their results stabilize. Share prices have risen as investors bet that companies looking to trim costs and reduce head count seek their services.

Indeed, companies have resumed looking toward outsourcing companies. In July, Vanguard, the mutual fund company, said it struck a deal with Infosys of India to assume 1,300 back office positions, like record keeping and technology services. Workers would be offered comparable jobs at Infosys, said a spokeswoman for Vanguard, adding that the decision was unrelated to the pandemic or the shifts in the H1-B program.

India’s outsourcing companies face long-term challenges. Cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence could eventually take over some of their tasks. The companies themselves are trying to move up the value chain to do more of the innovative technology work done in Silicon Valley and China.

“Most of the larger Indian I.T. companies haven’t expanded in that direction. They haven’t expanded to semiconductors, e-commerce, gaming and other technologies,” said Nitin Soni, a Singapore-based analyst and senior director at Fitch Ratings, a credit rating firm. “They have stuck to their core strengths, which are all in the realm of automation of organizational stuff.”

But companies rethinking the future of the office could offer them new opportunities.

“If you can get the same or better talent at lower cost, which allows you to do your business 24 hours, then that’s a good value proposition,” said Ajay Gupta, Mumbai-based partner at global consulting firm Kearney.

Of traditional offices, he added, “even companies within India are saying, ‘We don’t need this rigid infrastructure.’”

Vindu Goel contributed reporting from Berkley, Calif.

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Working From Home Poses Hurdles for Employees of Color

Kimberly Bryant, the founder of the nonprofit group Black Girls Code, recalls the spontaneous encounters with other people of color around the office that gave her a sense of belonging as she forged a career as an engineer. The wave in the cafeteria, the smile in the elevator, the nod in the hallway — for Ms. Bryant, “all would lead to connections that were instrumental in terms of my success.”

Those serendipitous occasions are just a memory, a casualty of the pandemic and the shift of tens of millions of employees from office settings to working from home. It’s also one way in which the rise of the virtual office places special burdens on people of color, according to diversity and inclusion officers as well as many employees.

With fewer connections and less extensive networks than white colleagues to begin with, Black and Hispanic workers can find themselves more isolated than ever in a world of Zoom calls and virtual forums. Assignments end up flowing to people who look more like top managers — a longstanding issue — while workers of color hesitate to raise their voices during online meetings, said Sara Prince, a partner at the consulting firm McKinsey.

“It’s a critical issue, and there is a real risk facing diversity and inclusion in the current environment,” said Ms. Prince, who like Ms. Bryant is African-American. “When the leader is looking for someone to take up the mantle, most of them go to the comfort zone of people who remind them of themselves. This is exacerbated by the virtual office.”

The issues posed by working from home are worsened by the outbreak over all. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, 27 percent of companies put diversity and inclusion efforts on hold, according to a survey by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, a research group.

Without an aggressive effort to counteract the pandemic’s impact on workplace dynamics, workers of color may suffer lasting career damage. “The unmanaged outcome is more isolation, less advancement, more job losses, and a real retrenchment in the progress around diversity and inclusion,” Ms. Prince said.

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Credit…Kaiti Sullivan for The New York Times

Corporations have been a focus for civil rights organizers since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May gave rise to protests and a broader examination of racial injustice.

In part, that focus reflects corporate America’s slow racial progress. Big businesses have made prominent contributions to organizations promoting social justice causes, and ad campaigns have highlighted companies’ engagement with communities of color. But the leadership of Fortune 500 companies continues to skew heavily white and male.

Some specialists on workplace diversity worry that as work shifts to home offices, efforts to advance people of color into executive positions will be blunted. More traditional candidates will end up dominating the conversation, they say, leaving others out.

Evelyn Carter, managing director at Paradigm, a consulting firm, cited a concept called distance bias to describe the dynamic that can occur in the virtual office. “You put more emphasis on people closer to you,” she said. “You don’t have connections where you don’t have proximity, so you maintain relationships with the people you already know.”

When employees gather online, it’s easier for some to fall through the cracks.

It’s harder to tell which employees have shrunk back in their chairs or otherwise withdrawn in virtual meetings, said Ms. Carter, who is African-American, but moderators should pay attention to clues like people with their cameras off and try to draw those participants back into the discussion.

Being visible is critical for people of color in the workplace and harder to achieve in a work-from-home environment, said Joy Fitzgerald, chief diversity and inclusion officer at the drugmaker Eli Lilly.

“To succeed, 50 percent is performance, 25 percent is perception and the other 25 percent, which is a force multiplier, is visibility,” said Ms. Fitzgerald, who is African-American. “But if people don’t know you, they don’t see you. It creates a higher degree of complexity and challenge for underrepresented groups.”

With many companies not expected to ask employees to return to their pre-pandemic workplaces before 2021, the implications of the virtual office for people of color have become an increasingly urgent topic for diversity officers, human resource chiefs and leaders in the Black business community like Ms. Bryant.

“A lot of us have some concerns about the impact on Black and brown communities as companies move to remote workplaces,” Ms. Bryant said. That’s especially true in the technology industry, which has struggled to diversify its heavily white and male work force.

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Credit…Kaiti Sullivan for The New York Times

People of color “have issues with feeling included in tech spaces,” she added. “There’s an added barrier to inclusion within a virtual space.” Black Girls Code, which she runs from Oakland, Calif., promotes the advancement of young women of color in technology jobs, offering training in software programs during after-school workshops and other sessions.

For Ms. Bryant, 53, who worked at the biotechnology company Genentech and other Bay Area operations, the connections that resulted from crossing paths in the hallway, the elevator and elsewhere led to lifelong friendships. There were few Black faces in what she terms a “monochromatic environment,” but out of adversity came deep bonds.

“You could share challenges as well as successes,” she said. “A good portion of those connections are still close.”

Other Black executives recounted similar experiences.

“I know what it’s like to be the only Black person or woman with your title in the room, and you do find that the opportunity to connect in person is helpful,” said Lanaya Irvin, president of the Center for Talent Innovation, a research group that looks at diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

The unexpected encounter may have been replaced by the formal geometry of the Zoom square, but not all experts consider that a bad thing. Tina Shah Paikeday, who oversees global diversity and inclusion advisory services at Russell Reynolds, the headhunting firm, thinks there might actually be some advantages to it.

“Most minorities are left out of informal networks and might not have been invited out for drinks or lunch,” said Ms. Paikeday, who is of South Asian descent. “The Zoom meeting is intentionally planned, and managers feel very intentional about inviting everyone.”

“It’s a great equalizer, and it creates opportunities for affinity group within large organizations,” she said. “It could end up being a good thing for minorities.”

Other diversity and inclusion officers concur with Ms. Paikeday, and emphasize that with leadership from the top, the virtual office can be designed to embrace all employees.

At Lilly, Ms. Fitzgerald has organized online forums in which workers of diverse backgrounds can share concerns and have access to top executives. After the killing of Mr. Floyd on May 25, Lilly convened a companywide one.

“For many Black and brown people, May 25 was a defining event, and we had a day of solidarity,” Ms. Fitzgerald said. “We did a double click on racial justice. It was a learning opportunity, it was a connection opportunity, and it was a call to action.”

It was also a chance for employees to interact directly with the company’s chief executive, David A. Ricks, who kicked off the session. More recently, in mid-August, Lilly held its annual forum for Black and Hispanic employees, drawing 5,000 people for virtual discussions of issues like immigration, racial justice, equity and inclusion.

Image

Credit…Kaiti Sullivan for The New York Times

Such efforts, she said, will prevent the virtual office from becoming a barrier.

Goldman Sachs’s chief diversity officer, Erika Irish Brown, who is African-American, acknowledged that “these are very isolating times,” but said that in the virtual office “there is a leveling that occurs when everyone has the same-size box onscreen.”

To encourage a sense of connection and ensure that different voices are heard, Goldman has organized a series of meetings aimed at a wide variety of employees.

In the spring, the firm organized a large forum on anti-Asian sentiment, with senior leaders discussing their experiences. It was followed by a global session on racial equity that featured David Solomon, Goldman’s chief executive, moderating a panel discussion on race with three Black partners.

At Dell Technologies, the Black Networking Alliance organized two “moments of reflection” after Mr. Floyd’s killing. Nearly 30,000 employees, including Michael Dell, the company’s chief executive, dialed in to share their feelings and engage in a dialogue.

The Black Networking Alliance is one of 13 employee resource groups at Dell, said Brian Reaves, chief diversity and inclusion officer at the company. Others include Pride, Women in Action and Latino Connection.

“Whether it’s the elevator or the lunchroom, it’s nice to connect,” said Mr. Reaves, who is African-American, but he feels that these groups can take the place of those spots and keep workers from feeling isolated. “You can connect with anybody around the world.”

Whether or not that proves to be the case, it’s clear that the virtual office will endure even after the coronavirus has been conquered. Longstanding practices in areas like recruiting are changing, too, with candidates no longer having to start at headquarters and get to know co-workers of color through a nod or a wave.

“We’ll never go back to where we were before,” Mr. Reaves said.

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The Service Economy Meltdown

March 16 was the last day David Engelsman walked into the Jackrabbit, an acclaimed restaurant at the boutique Duniway Hotel in downtown Portland, Ore. The lead server on morning duty, Mr. Engelsman was told before his shift started that his job was no longer needed. He left early, at 10:30 a.m. The restaurant didn’t reopen the next day.

A total of 330 workers at the Duniway and another Hilton property across the street have been let go since then. With two autistic children, a wife with a severe heart condition and now no health insurance, Mr. Engelsman has devoted much of his time to the fight by his union, UNITE HERE, to get Hilton to make health-plan contributions for laid-off workers until the end of the year. “We’re left standing here with nothing,” he said. “I know I sound dramatic, but it is dramatic.”

With 11.5 million jobs lost since February and the government’s monthly report Friday showing a slowdown in hiring, stories like this have become painfully common. When companies dispatched office staff to work remotely from home, cut business trips and canceled business lunches, they also eliminated the jobs cleaning their offices and hotel rooms, driving them around town and serving them meals.

For this army of service workers across urban America, the pandemic risks becoming more than a short-term economic shock. If white-collar America doesn’t return to the office, service workers will be left with nobody to serve.

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Credit…Sergio Flores for The New York Times
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Credit…Chona Kasinger for The New York Times
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Credit…Ysa Pérez for The New York Times

The worry is particularly acute in cities, which for decades have sustained tens of millions of jobs for workers without a college education. Now remote work is adding to other pressures that have stunted opportunities. The collapse of retailers like J.C. Penney and Neiman Marcus has wiped out many low-wage jobs. The implosion of tourism in cities like New York and San Francisco will end many more.

Maria Valdez, a laid-off housekeeper at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio, is scraping by with three children on a $314 weekly unemployment check. Kimber Adams, who lost her job as a bartender at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, is pinning hopes on her “Plan B” to become a phlebotomist. Waldo Cabrera, let go from his job cleaning the cabins of American Airlines jets at the Miami airport, hopes an offer to drive a tanker truck in Texas will wait until he can move at the end of the year. “Perforce I have to leave here,” he said.

Mari Duncan is relatively lucky. She is still drawing a paycheck, even though her job marinating meats and cooking soup at Facebook’s Seattle campus ended when Facebook sent its managers and engineers to work from home. But she fears that her deal — Facebook is still paying its food service contractor so it can cover payroll — can’t last forever. “When I saw a story break about how Facebook will stay remote until July of 2021,” she said, “I freaked out a little bit.”

Every one of them is itching to get back to work. But a fear is budding that even when the pandemic has passed, the economy may not provide the jobs it once did.

“Some law firms are finding that it is more productive for their lawyers to stay at home,” said Kristinia Bellamy, a janitor who was laid off from her job cleaning offices at a high-rise housing legal firms and other white-collar businesses in Midtown Manhattan. “This might be the beginning of the end for these commercial office buildings.”

Consider Nike’s decision in the spring to allow most employees at its headquarters in the Portland area to work remotely. Aramark, which runs the cafeteria and catering at Nike, furloughed many of its workers. With no need for full services anticipated “for an undefined period,” Aramark says, 378 employees — waiters, cooks, cashiers and others — now face permanent layoff on Sept. 25.

The question is whether dislocations like this will be only temporary. About one-fifth of adults of working age who do not have a college degree live in the biggest metropolitan areas — in the top quarter by population density — according to estimates by David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Most are in service industries that cater to the needs of an affluent class of “knowledge workers” who have flocked to cities in search of cool amenities and high pay.

And having discovered Zoom, what company will fly a manager across the country for a day’s worth of meetings? A lasting reduction in business travel will endanger the ecosystem of hotel and restaurant workers serving corporate travelers.

Jonathan Dingel and Brent Neiman of the University of Chicago have calculated that 37 percent of jobs can be done entirely from home. Those jobs tend to be highly paid, in fields like legal services, computer programming and financial services. And they tend to concentrate in affluent areas like San Francisco; Stamford, Conn.; and Raleigh, N.C.

Recent research by the economists Edward Glaeser, Caitlin Gorback and Stephen Redding found that when Covid-19 struck, activity — measured by the movement of cellphones in and out of ZIP codes — declined much more sharply in neighborhoods where a larger share of residents had jobs that could potentially be done from home.




Ability to work from home

26%

Share of jobs

32

34

36

38

43

Seattle

Portland

Boston

Minneapolis

Buffalo

Detroit

N.Y.

Chicago

Omaha

Cleveland

San Fran.

Phila.

Indianapolis

Denver

San Jose

Wash.

Kansas City

Cincinnati

Las Vegas

St. Louis

Wichita

Nashville

Albuquerque

Raleigh

Los Angeles

Okla.City

Memphis

National Bureau of Economic Research

Phoenix

Atlanta

Dallas

El Paso

Jacksonville

Austin

New Orleans

Honolulu

Anchorage

Tampa

Miami

Ability to work from home

26%

Share of jobs

32

34

36

38

43

Seattle

Portland

Boston

Minneapolis

Buffalo

Milwaukee

Detroit

New York

Pittsburgh

Cleveland

Chicago

Philadelphia

Omaha

San Francisco

Baltimore

Indianapolis

Cincinnati

Washington

San Jose

Kansas City

Denver

Wichita

St. Louis

Las Vegas

Louisville

Raleigh

Nashville

Los Angeles

Charlotte

Albuquerque

Memphis

San Diego

Phoenix

Oklahoma City

Atlanta

Tucson

Dallas

El Paso

Austin

New Orleans

Jacksonville

Houston

Tampa

San Antonio

Anchorage

Honolulu

Miami

Ability to work from home

Share of jobs

26%

32

34

36

38

43

Seattle

Portland

Boston

Minneapolis

Buffalo

Milwaukee

Detroit

New York

Chicago

Cleveland

Pittsburgh

Philadelphia

Omaha

Baltimore

Columbus

San Francisco

Indianapolis

Washington

Cincinnati

Denver

San Jose

Kansas City

St. Louis

Louisville

Las Vegas

Wichita

Raleigh

Nashville

Los Angeles

Charlotte

Albuquerque

Memphis

Oklahoma City

San Diego

Phoenix

Atlanta

Tucson

Dallas

El Paso

Jacksonville

Austin

New Orleans

Houston

Tampa

San Antonio

Honolulu

Anchorage

Miami


Source: Edward Glaeser, Harvard University; Caitlin Gorback, National Bureau of Economic Research; and Stephen Redding, Princeton University

By Karl Russell

The economists at Opportunity Insights in Cambridge, Mass., estimate that in the year to Aug. 9, consumer spending in high-income ZIP codes declined 8.4 percent, with the impact felt disproportionately by industries that rely heavily on the nation’s low-wage labor force: restaurants and hotels, entertainment and recreation services.




Ability to work from home in metropolitan areas

compared to change in jobs there

+30

%

ALL WORKERS

+20

+10

Change

in jobs

0

–10

–20

Trend line

–30

–40

20%

30

40

50

Share of jobs that can be done from home

+30

%

RETAIL WORKERS

+20

+10

0

–10

–20

–30

–40

20%

30

40

50

LEISURE AND

HOSPITALITY WORKERS

+30

%

+20

+10

0

–10

–20

–30

–40

20%

30

40

50

Ability to work from home in metropolitan areas compared to change in jobs there

LEISURE AND

HOSPITALITY WORKERS

ALL WORKERS

RETAIL WORKERS

+30

%

+20

+10

Change

in jobs

0

–10

–20

Trend line

–30

–40

20%

30

40

50

Share of jobs that can

be done from home

Ability to work from home in metropolitan areas compared to change in jobs there

ALL WORKERS

RETAIL WORKERS

LEISURE AND HOSPITALITY WORKERS

+30

%

+20

+10

Change

in jobs

0

–10

–20

Trend line

–30

–40

20%

30

40

50

Share of jobs that can

be done from home


Sources: Jonathan Dingel and Brent Neiman, University of Chicago; Bureau of Labor Statistics

By Karl Russell

A lasting change in the behavior of the high-wage layer atop urban labor markets would have an outsize effect. Many service jobs that held on in the face of globalization and widespread automation may not survive.

“I don’t know what a less-skilled worker does in West Virginia,” said Mr. Glaeser, an urban economist at Harvard University. “If urban service jobs disappear, the whole of America becomes like West Virginia.”

Nike isn’t Portland’s biggest private employer. That’s Intel, the semiconductor giant, which employs 20,000 mostly well-paid people there. It is a pillar of a high-tech cluster known as the Silicon Forest stretching between Hillsboro and Beaverton on the western edge of the city. And it supports a network of contractors and subcontractors whose income trickles down through the area’s economy.

Only about 40 percent of Intel’s employees are working on site — those indispensable to its vast chip-making plants — and remote work is set to continue until at least next June. Even after that, said Darcy Ortiz, Intel’s vice president for corporate services, “there will be more flexibility in the way we work.”

For businesses that rely on Intel’s footprint, that may not be great news. “Intel has sustained us,” said Rick Van Beveren, a member of the Hillsboro City Council who owns a cafe and a catering business that remain mostly shuttered. “We cater to a constellation of businesses around Intel.”

The same type of decision is being made around the country. Scott Rechler, chief executive of RXR Realty, which owns over 20 million square feet of office space in New York City, estimates that every office worker sustains five service jobs, from the shoeshine booth to the coffee shop. Yet only about 12 percent of his tenants are in the office.

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Credit…Chona Kasinger for The New York Times
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Credit…September Dawn Bottoms/The New York Times
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Credit…Hannah Yoon for The New York Times

Restaurant Associates — the food-service conglomerate operating cafeterias at companies including Google and The New York Times, and restaurants at the Smithsonian and the Quadrangle Club of the University of Chicago — employed 10,500 workers before the pandemic. Though the company has been scrambling for new business since then — to feed health workers, or to make home-delivered meals — Dick Cattani, the chief executive, said that only some half of them are working today.

Of course, a lot of the urban economy that employs low-wage service workers was shut down by city and state governments hoping to contain the pandemic. The risk of infection is also keeping many people at home. Presumably these fears and restrictions will relax once a vaccine or a treatment for Covid-19 is developed.

In New York, for instance, Amazon, Facebook and Google expect to add thousands more workers in the city. “It will take time to recover,” Mr. Rechler said. “Many small businesses may not survive. There will be some urban flight. But that will be backfilled by the next young bright cohort of people who want to come to New York.”

Mr. Cattani sees this as an opportunity to buy new businesses. And the company is expanding into hospitals, to feed patients and their visitors. “Covid can’t change the underlying energy of creative workers in a single place,” said John Alschuler, chairman of the real estate advisory firm HR&A Advisors.

A large share of the American labor force hopes he is right. Mr. Engelsman, the restaurant server in Portland, has no idea how he will pay for his wife’s medication when a month’s dose of beta blockers alone costs $580. Mr. Cabrera, the American Airlines cabin cleaner in Miami, had to dip into the insurance money he got after somebody crashed into his car, and is now carless. Ms. Valdez, the hotel housekeeper in San Antonio, was called back for the Grand Hyatt’s reopening this month, but says she can’t return until school starts because she must care for her 11-year-old son. She worries that Hyatt will try to make do with fewer cleaning workers and not hire everybody back.

Angel Carter, who was laid off in March from her job cleaning three floors in Philadelphia’s Center City, notes that janitors at work are putting their health at risk. They are more important than ever — given the pandemic — because offices must be cleaned extra thoroughly. She argues that the job these days merits hazard pay. But above anything else, Ms. Carter said, “I’m praying that they do open back up.”

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The H-1B visa ban is creating nearshore business partnership opportunities

In June, President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily suspending work visas for H-1B holders, which includes skilled workers like software developers.

Considering that 71% of workers in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs are international, the order poses a number of logistical and business challenges for startups.

While nearshoring was an option before the virus struck, the urgency to nearshore due to the visa ban, combined with the remote revolution taking place, has meant companies are reconsidering it as a solution. As a result, the suspension presents an opportunity for companies to bring on board software development capabilities from abroad.

Nearshoring is a way to hire teams in locations that share similar time zones and are easily accessible. Nearshoring also enables U.S. companies to utilize services from close locations, where the talent, working conditions, and salaries are more favorable. In fact, it can save businesses up to 80% on costs, while providing employees with flexibility, autonomy and better career development pathways.

Not only is nearshoring a pragmatic response to the visa ban, it has the potential to be a long-term hiring alternative for businesses. Here’s how:

Laying the groundwork for remote teams

Amid the pandemic, demand for developers has remained high, no doubt due to companies needing teams to build, maintain and optimize digital platforms as they transition to online services. The visa ban means that businesses in foreign markets can help meet such demand, particularly as tech talent from other countries comes with a fresh, different skill set that empowers companies to solve problems in new ways.

In the past, moving to the U.S. and living the American Dream oriented many foreign businesses’ professional paths. However, the trend has changed. The appeal of the United States was slipping prior to the virus — it ranked 46th out of 66 for “perceived friendliest to expats” — and post-COVID-19 may be even more detrimental.

In a more connected world, businesses and individuals can reap the benefits of U.S. opportunities — top technology stack, access to exciting companies and world-class research — without having to actually live in the country. In this respect, nearshoring means foreign teams have the best of both worlds: the comfort of home and ties to an international powerhouse.

The remote shift is demonstrating that teams can function well at a distance; some studies have even revealed that employee productivity and happiness benefit from remote work. In the global remote shift, nearshoring is being seen as an accepted and advantageous model. Companies that opt to nearshore in response to the visa ban can take advantage of the changing tides and use this time to lay the groundwork for best practices within remote teams. For instance, by devising policies for things like communication, tracking progress, vacation and development plans according to the new conditions and specific mission statements. As a result, businesses can seamlessly build professional partnerships.

Another advantage of nearshoring is that the flexible teams contribute to a ready-to-scale model for startups. By having development partners located in different countries, companies can network on a wider level and grow faster among local markets. Rather than start from scratch when expanding, nearshoring gives companies a presence — no matter how small — across regions, which can later be built upon.

Attracting fresh investment

Similar to having a readiness to scale, the H-1B visa suspension positions nearshoring as a viable way to strategically partner with foreign development studios. In contrast to offshoring, nearshored businesses are often more vested in the projects they work on because they share time zones and are thus able to work more closely and with greater agility. Within startups, such agility is essential to continuously test, iterate and pivot products or services. Outsourced teams often have defined outputs to achieve, while freelancers are split across several projects, so aren’t completely ingrained in companies’ visions.

With nearshoring, startups can target partners that have experience in a particular area of business or with a specific tech feature and accelerate their time to market. Instead of building systems from zero, they can launch into version 2.0 because the wider choice of experts means there’s a higher chance of partnering with teams who already understand how the industry functions. Nearshore partners also have vast knowledge across industrial fields at a level that is impossible for direct hires to have. Companies therefore don’t have to tackle the difficulty of curating a great team, because nearshore partners are an already solid pairing.

When it comes to funding, this synchronicity, agility and preparedness indicates that a startup has momentum. For investors, nearshoring shows that the company has on-the-ground insights about potential markets to disrupt, and that the business model can thrive using remote teams. As the world braces itself to go fully digital, startups that have already adopted remote processes that catalyze growth will no doubt catch the attention of investors.

Promoting greater diversity in teams

Latin America is a clear choice for U.S. businesses looking to nearshore. The region’s proximity, increasing internet penetration, and impressive number of highly skilled developers are all a significant draw.

It’s also worth noting that diversity plays a core role in nearshoring. Currently within tech, Hispanic workers are noticeably underrepresented, making up a mere 16.7% of jobs. Despite the physical distance, nearshoring in Latin America can bring people from different social and economic backgrounds into companies, boosting their visibility in industries as a whole, and setting a firm foundation for equality.

Studies also show that diversity influences creativity among teams, as well as increases company revenue.

Moreover, nearshoring accelerates diversity in a manner that isn’t disruptive. Foreign team members don’t have to sacrifice their home, friends and family to further their professional career. Relocating to the U.S. can be daunting for people who haven’t previously worked abroad, especially when factoring the change in living costs and new culture norms. Nearshoring means teams can work from locations they’re familiar with, so need less time to get up to speed on business processes. They additionally have the emotional support of their social circles nearby, which in the current climate is important for employees’ personal and professional wellbeing.

Leveraging the right partnership

Research is key to successfully find a nearshore company, and startups don’t always have the time and resources to conduct an in-depth analysis of locations and their ecosystems. The most practical manner to nearshore the right talent is with a nearshoring partner that is responsible for scouting, vetting and communicating with foreign developers.

To find an appropriate partner, ensure that they have previous experience in your industry and positive testimonials from startups in your location. They should also have a clear presence in the regions they operate in; try checking online for their press releases, events they sponsor and general content that validates they are active and respected.

Once you’ve found an appropriate nearshore partner, rely on them to know what teams in your preferred locations need in terms of culture. Nearshore partners will essentially be your development partner — you can leverage them to be your whole Research and Development department. They can guide you on the tech side of your business, advise you on the right team at the right time, give you direction on stack and methodology, and curate the right environment for the team to be productive. In contrast, hiring freelancers comes with risks because you won’t necessarily know the specific needs of the location they’re in. Be aware — if there’s a cultural disconnect, you risk not finding a partner, but a vendor that’s buying into a superficial version of your startup, as opposed to your real startup vision.

Once you’ve settled on a well-fitting nearshoring partner, ensure you have detailed contracts with all team members, as well as nondisclosure agreements. Nearshoring requires a level of mutual trust, however, at such an early stage of your company’s lifecycle, you need to know that your processes and data will not be revealed to competitors. Check that your nearshore partner’s financial status is secure and sufficient for a long-term model. Correspondingly, service level agreements will set the parameters for job responsibilities and deliverables. After all the formalities are covered, you can focus on curating fruitful, long-term relationships.

Acclimatizing in the new normal

The COVID-19 crisis has made recruitment a remote-dominated sphere. Traditional modes of hiring are being reassessed, and companies are realizing that teams don’t have to be in an office to be productive. In fact, not having to cover visa and administration fees for foreign employees is much more cost-effective for companies.

As time passes and businesses develop habits best-suited to remote work, nearshoring will become increasingly popular. People are prioritizing joining teams where their career development, well-being and ethics are protected, all of which nearshoring can offer with the added benefit of not completely upheaving workers’ lives.

Startups who embrace nearshoring early on could find themselves competing with top tech firms that struggle because of recruiting limitations. With the end of the pandemic unknown, and thus no hard deadline for the visa ban, tech companies have to look at alternative modes of building teams. Startups have the advantage of revising their remote product development approach without disturbing workflows too severely. They are also known for pioneering fairer and more innovative workplaces that are enticing for a broader scope of employees.

Nearshoring is mutually beneficial because developers don’t have to give up their culture for a great employment opportunity, and businesses can reap the benefits of diversification. Ultimately, the H-1B visa suspension could stimulate true globalization in tech, where companies can achieve their best performance using global resources.

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Here are four areas the $311 billion CPPIB investment fund thinks will be impacted by COVID-19

The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, an asset manager controlling around $311 billion in assets for the Canada’s pensioners and retirees, has identified four key industries that are set to experience massive changes as a result of the global economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The firm expects the massive changes in e-commerce, healthcare, logistics, and urban infrastructure to remain in place for an extended period of time and is urging investors to rethink their approaches to each as a result.

“It really ties into the mandate that we have in thematic investing,” said Leon Pedersen, the head of Thematic Investments at CPPIB.

There was a realization at the firm that structural changes were happening and that there was value for the fund manager in ensuring that the changes were being addressed across its broad investment portfolio. “We have a long term mandate and we have a long term investment horizon so we can afford to think long term in our investment outlook,” Pedersen said.

The Thematic Investments group within CPPIB will make mid-cap, small-cap and private investments in companies that reflect the firm’s long term theses, according to Pedersen. So not only does this survey indicate where the firm sees certain industries going, but it’s also a sign of where CPPIB might commit some investment capital.

The research, culled from international surveys with over 3,500 respondents as well as intensive conversations with the firm’s investment professionals and portfolio companies, indicates that there’s likely a new baseline in e-commerce usage that will continue to drive growth among companies that offer blended retail offerings and that offices are likely never going to return to full-time occupancy by every corporate employee.

Already CPPIB has made investments in companies like Fabric, a warehouse management and automation company.

The e-commerce wave has crested, but the tide may turn

Amid the good news for e-commerce companies is a word of warning for companies in the online grocery space. While usage surged to 31 percent of U.S. households, up from 13 percent in August, consumers gave the service poor marks and many grocers are actually losing money on online orders. The move online also favored bigger omni-channel vendors like Amazon and Walmart, the study found.

The CPPIB also found that there may be opportunities for brick and mortar vendors in the aftermath of the epidemic. As younger consumers return to shopping center they’re going to find fewer retailers available, since bankruptcies are coming in both the US and Europe. That could open the door for new brands to emerge. Meanwhile, in China, more consumers are moving offline with malls growing and customers returning to shopping centers.

Some of the biggest winners will actually be online entertainment and cashless payments — since fewer stores are accepting cash and music and video streaming represent low-risk, easier options than live events or movie theaters.

LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 30: General views of tourists and shoppers returning to the Hollywood & Highland shopping mall for the first weekend of in-store retail business being open since COVID-19 closures began in mid-March on May 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

Healthcare goes digital and privacy matters more than ever

Consumers in the West, already reluctant to hand over personal information, have become even more sensitive to government handling of their information despite the public health benefits of tracking and tracing, according to the CPPIB. In Germany and the U.S. half of consumers said they had concerns about sharing their data with government or corporations, compared with less than 20 percent of Chinese survey respondents.

However, even as people are more reluctant to share personal information with governments or corporations, they’re becoming more willing to share personal information over technology platforms. One-third of the patients who used tele-medical services in the U.S. during the pandemic did so for the first time. And roughly twenty percent of the nation had a telemedicine consultation over the course of the year, according to CPPIB data.

Technologies that improve the experience are likely to do well, because of the people who did try telemedicine, satisfaction levels in the service went down.

DENVER, CO – MARCH 12: Healthcare workers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment check in with people waiting to be tested for COVID-19 at the state’s first drive-up testing center on March 12, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. The testing center is free and available to anyone who has a note from a doctor confirming they meet the criteria to be tested for the virus. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

Cities and infrastructure will change

“From mass transit to public gatherings, few areas of urban life will be left unmarked by COVID-19,” write the CPPIB report authors.

Remote work will accelerate dramatically changing the complexion of downtown environments as the breadth of amenities on offer will spread to suburban communities where residents flock.  According to CPPIB’s data roughly half of workers in China, the UK and the US worked from home during the pandemic, up from 5 percent or less in 2019. In Canada, four-in-ten Canadian were telecommuting.

To that end, the CPPIB sees opportunities for companies enabling remote work (including security, collaboration and productivity technologies) and automating business practices. On the flip side, for those workers who remain wedded to the office by necessity or natural inclination, there’s going to need to be cleaning and sanitation services and someone’s going to have to provide some COVID-19 specific tools.

With personal space at a premium, public transit and ride hailing is expected to take a hit as well, according to the CPPIB report.

New York City, NY is shown in the above Maxar satellite image. Image Credit: Maxar

Supply chains become the ties that bind in a distributed, virtual world

As more aspects of daily life become socially distanced and digital, supply chains will assume an even more central position in the economy.

“Amid rising labor costs and heightened geopolitical risk, companies today are focused on resilience,” write the CPPIB authors.

Companies are reassessing their reliance on Chinese manufacturing since political pressure is coming from more regions on Chinese suppliers thanks to the internment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang and the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democratic and open society. According to CPPIB, India, Southeast Asia, and regional players like Mexico and Poland are best positioned to benefit from this supply chain diversification. Supply chain management software providers, and robotics and automation services stand to benefit.

“Confined to their homes for months and subjected to a rapid reordering of their perceived health risks and economic prospects, consumers are emerging from a shared trauma that will change their priorities and concerns for years to come,” the CPPIB study’s authors write.

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The ‘right’ way to downsize

What years of working with startups taught me about laying people off

A little over a year into launching StrongLoop, an enterprise API startup eventually acquired by IBM, we were out over our skis. It was my doing — having built a vast top of funnel, we expected our product to have a specific sell-through rate and I’d optimistically hired in engineering, customer support, marketing and sales. However, the sales cycles were long, burn rate was too high and we had too many highly skilled people who were a little bored. It was time to orchestrate a reduction in force.

I’d been laid off a few times myself, once from a pivoting startup and again during the downturn of 2001, so I knew what it felt like. I’d also been a manager at a larger company that laid off employees, so I’d seen the corporate playbook. But as the CEO, I had personally sold these people on our vision, cramming into a small substandard office with them for months or years — it felt very personal. Back then, the job market was robust: I didn’t worry about team members finding new jobs. Today is more uncertain.

With many startups under the pressure of a pandemic-fueled economic crisis, I interviewed several CEOs who have had to orchestrate COVID-19-related layoffs to capture (what I believe) are some best practices to downsize correctly and compassionately.

Put people before projects

One company had a pending product launch, yet a few renewals were pushed due to COVID-19-based uncertainty. Meanwhile, the board had decided to extend runway to have more options. The question was: Should the company complete the product launch and let employees know they’re losing their jobs after? Or should they tell employees ahead of time, risking a loss in focus while some members of the team (correctly) start looking for jobs?

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Coronavirus Tests the Leadership Style of Goldman Sachs’s C.E.O.

David M. Solomon started 2020 on his back foot.

Mr. Solomon had been on the job as chief executive of Goldman Sachs, perhaps Wall Street’s most storied and vilified institution, for just over a year, working to broaden the bank’s offerings by pursuing lines of business that his predecessors had long avoided.

But his Main Street push had failed to impress shareholders. After Goldman’s investor day in January, the bank analyst Mike Mayo described some of these moves, including a credit card offered in partnership with Apple, as “somewhere between a distraction and a moonshot” and added that he didn’t know of a single investor who had bought Goldman’s stock for those reasons.

If stockholders were scratching their heads at the direction of the bank under Mr. Solomon, employees weren’t much clearer on what kind of leader he was. Lloyd C. Blankfein, the previous chief executive, was seen as a coolheaded strategist who had steered Goldman through the 2008 financial crisis. Mr. Solomon, a spare-time disc jockey, had a reputation for being blunt and pragmatic, but also intuitive and flexible.

Then, as Mr. Solomon was still getting situated, the pandemic hit, presenting him with the biggest leadership challenge — and opportunity — of his short time atop the bank. The crisis has shown Mr. Solomon to be a deft navigator who quickly adapted to changes that caught some of his bank’s bigger competitors flat-footed. But it brought an unforced error by Mr. Solomon that underscored the perils of a fun-loving attitude he has viewed as an asset when dealing with Goldman’s young work force.

Other challenges remain, including investigations by U.S. prosecutors and bank regulators into Goldman’s role in helping raise billions of dollars for 1MDB, a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund that some officials used as a personal piggy bank. A framework for the settlement with the U.S. authorities has been reached but not finalized, a person familiar with the matter said. Prosecutors declined to comment.

When New York City went into lockdown in March, Mr. Solomon sent most of the bank’s 40,000 employees home immediately and blessed the firm’s procurement of thousands of monitors and landline phone systems for use in home offices. He also got on hundreds of Zoom calls with clients to reassure them that Goldman would help see them through their mounting obstacles — and not necessarily for a fee.

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Credit…September Dawn Bottoms/The New York Times

Goldman’s early embrace of working from home helped traders capitalize on surging market activity in the first and second quarters. Their efforts pushed the firm’s stock and bond-trading revenues to recent records, while minimizing disruptions and encouraging worker loyalty. By contrast, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America stumbled initially as they struggled to ready backup sites and, in some cases, created an atmosphere in which trading-floor workers felt pressured to go to the office.

“David has done a solid job navigating the Covid crisis,” said Justin Gmelich, a partner at the hedge fund King Street and longtime Goldman markets executive before that. He praised the firm’s flexible work-at-home policies and the insights that analysts and traders had provided him as a client, although he said he had concerns about the talent pool because at least a half-dozen senior traders had left the bank since Mr. Solomon’s ascension.

With nearly half the bank’s employees under the age of 30, his messaging appears attuned to the mores of a changing finance industry. Already, Mr. Solomon — a yogi and music lover — had brought a different vibe to the job, ripping up the firm’s stodgy dress code and talking about bringing one’s “whole self” to work. In managing Goldman’s response to the virus, he is also becoming an unlikely poster boy for a softer era on Wall Street, where personal well-being can take precedence over profits and displaying anxieties isn’t a matter of embarrassment.

Mr. Solomon, 58, did stumble into a minor scandal recently while indulging his favorite hobby. Last month, he took the stage to D.J. at a concert in New York’s affluent Hamptons beach community, while a large crowd partied in close quarters. The gathering drew the ire of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who demanded an investigation. A spokesman for the state’s health department said the inquiry was continuing.

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Credit…Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Safe & Sound
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Credit…Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Safe & Sound

In two separate meetings with Goldman Sachs partners and members of the firm’s management committee after the event, he acknowledged that he had made a mistake, according to two people familiar with the matter.

And while he has long said that mixing and recording music is an enjoyable outlet that helps him connect with Goldman’s younger generation, some of the firm’s directors raised concerns last summer about the optics of his hobby, the people said. In side conversations, some directors have suggested that golf might be a better alternative, one of those people said.

“David admits it was a mistake to participate, and he’s told people at the firm that,” a Goldman spokesman, Jake Siewert, said of the Hamptons concert. Mr. Siewert added that Mr. Solomon had put live events on hold for the foreseeable future but planned to continue recording electronic music.

Since the earliest days of the coronavirus, Mr. Solomon had been watching it make its way from China to the United States and worried about its potential economic impact. In early February, he spoke with David Tepper, a well-known stock investor and Goldman alumnus, who had read a dire forecast for the virus in the medical journal The Lancet. The two were at a Super Bowl event in Miami, and Mr. Tepper said he had come to believe the illness could hobble the United States.

“I was struck by the fact that he was more worried than I was, and I was worried,” Mr. Solomon recalled. He began working on larger-scale contingency plans.

By the end of February, Mr. Solomon’s senior team was holding regular 6:30 a.m. meetings to discuss what Goldman should do to safeguard both its employees and its business if the virus spread more widely.

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Credit…September Dawn Bottoms/The New York Times
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Credit…September Dawn Bottoms/The New York Times

In March, after the coronavirus was declared a pandemic and most of Goldman’s workers went home, Mr. Solomon chose to go into the office daily. To lead, he said, was to show up physically.

“For me, it doesn’t seem right the C.E.O. of Goldman Sachs goes out to, you know, a country house, a suburb or some other place, and is not in charge, in the office, because that’s what we do,” he said in a phone interview in late June.

Mr. Solomon’s approach to the crisis has been a contrast to some of his peers. James Gorman, the chief executive of Morgan Stanley, worked remotely until early July, worried that returning to the office would put undue pressure on employees to follow suit. A visit to the trading floor by Bank of America’s chief executive, Brian Moynihan, early in the outbreak led some employees to question their decisions to work from home. (A bank spokeswoman said that was not the intent.)

“The message from David on down was so clear, that there were no questions asked, it didn’t matter,” said Jen Roth, 39, who runs the firm’s U.S. currencies and emerging markets business, about Goldman’s quick approval of work-from-home plans. Ms. Roth, who had never worked a single day from home until this year, set up shop in a bathroom of her parents’ suburban Philadelphia house — one of the few available rooms with a lockable door to field client calls with her spouse, children and parents nearby.

Zachary Fields, a 26-year-old associate in one of Goldman’s investing businesses, worked from his high school desk from his parents’ home in Delray Beach, Fla. “As long as I have a Wi-Fi connection, access to my computer, and Bluetooth headphones and videoconferencing, I can do my job,” he said.

But Mr. Solomon’s request this summer that some employees return to the office has led to grumbling among those who think a longer stretch of working from home is warranted. Others, however, would like to see Mr. Solomon encourage even more people to resume working from the office and have expressed those views to the C.E.O., a person familiar with the matter said.

The bank hasn’t determined when to bring all its workers back, but it won’t be this fall given the ongoing uncertainty about the virus, Mr. Siewert said.

For now, with everyone dispersed, Mr. Solomon has sought new ways to keep in touch with workers.

“Your jobs are safe during this crisis,” he said in an audio message distributed to the firm’s workers on April 2, noting that Goldman would provide additional family leave to employees. He attended an after-work “geek-out” session for employees on the topic of winemaking, and sipped the wine under discussion as he watched. All 150 participants had received the same bottle from the bank.

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In late May, after a Black man, George Floyd, was killed by a white police officer, touching off nationwide protests over racial injustice, Mr. Solomon encouraged employees to speak more openly about race and intolerance. Fred Baba, a managing director in the firm’s markets division, responded with an email to a small group of colleagues discussing his experience with racism and describing the previous few months as “demoralizing.”

The email, which argued for mentoring people of color and supporting minority-owned business, soon inspired a Goldman podcast with Mr. Baba and an op-ed article on Bloomberg. Mr. Solomon also convened an emotional town-hall meeting on race, during which he choked up as Black partners shared their anguish over police violence toward Black people.

Mr. Solomon believes more openness will pay off. He recently held a virtual meeting with eight drug-industry chief executives in which they discussed race and the health crisis in a way, he said, that felt more frank than usual.

“We’re all being much more vulnerable as we’re trying to lead our people,” he said. “I think that’s effective leadership, and it’s working.”

Matthew Goldstein contributed reporting.

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