coronavirus pandemic

Back to the Office? How Hartford Companies Slowly Reopen

State leaders have been urging Connecticut companies to get employers back into office spaces. Experts say it’ll help spark our economy. But is it happening?

While the state is trying to set the example by getting employees back to work, things are moving slower for corporations in our Capitol City.

“It’s going in the right direction. Obviously, you see we’re fairly busy in there. We’re still pretty slow compared to what it was before,” said G Tran, owner and operator of Banh Meee on Ann Uccello Avenue.

The fast-casual Vietnamese eatery serves up folks working in the city and had to close one of their Hartford restaurants during the height of the pandemic.

“I mean it was pretty rough,” said Tran. “Some of the days we didn’t know if we were going to make it. I mean when you go to 100 tickets, down to 9 for lunch, it’s a big drop.”

But as people slowly start to get off their couches and go back to their offices in Hartford, its kitchen is slowly heating up.

“There’s no question we’re seeing more feet on the street again, more energy, but I think a number of companies are going to be taking their time as they bring people back,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, who said he’d, of course, love for everyone to get back to work as soon as tomorrow.

Larger companies in the greater Hartford area like The Hartford, Travelers, Aetna and Cigna tell NBC Connecticut safety of their employees is their top priority.

“As we sit here today, The Hartford is open,” said CEO Christopher Swift.

The Harford office is open on a voluntary basis for those who feel comfortable heading into the building.

“If our employees are vaccinated, and even if they’re not, we’re open for business and encouraging people to come back. We’ll have more of a push after Labor Day,” he said.

Travelers and Cigna expect more people will be back in the office after Labor Day, too.

When you pair that with out-of-towners stopping in for events this summer, things are looking just a little bit sweeter than they did a couple of months ago.

“It’s been a tough year for a lot of people and we’re happy to come back and support such a terrific restaurant,” said Peter Millman of Storrs, grabbing food at Banh Meee while visiting the city to support a transportation climate initiative at the Capitol.

So while there’s no perfect recipe for Connecticut’s comeback, more activity is expected to add more kick to our economy.

We asked the Department of Economic and Community Development how many businesses or employees need to get back to the office to get our economy moving and grooving again.

They said they don’t have a specific metric, rather we just need everyone back in the office, even if it’s just part time.

Matthew Sturdevant, a spokesman for The Hartford, said:

“We expect to meaningfully increase the number of employees coming into the offices starting in the summer and early fall. Our decisions are, and will continue to be, informed by experts within our organization as well as public health officials at all levels of government.”

A statement from a CIGNA spokesperson:

"As a health services company, the health, well-being and safety of our customers and employees is our top priority. We are taking what we’ve learned from the pandemic and determining the best way forward for our colleagues, our culture, and our company. Our headquarters in Bloomfield is currently open to small groups of employees, including those who are required to be onsite. We are planning to fully reopen several of our larger sites, including our Bloomfield headquarters, around Labor Day, though it will not be mandatory for most employees to return at that time. As we continue to refine our future plans, we are doing so with an eye toward enhanced flexibility, opportunities to connect and collaborate when and where optimal, and enabling our colleagues to do their best work regardless of their location."

A spokesperson for Travelers said:

"The majority of our employees continue to work remotely, although we are allowing those who prefer to work from the office to do so on a voluntary basis. We expect that we’ll be returning to the office more broadly after Labor Day, and while we’re still working through those details, it will likely include a higher degree of flexibility as compared to our pre-pandemic model. As always, our plans will put the health and safety of our employees first and will take into account the recommendations and guidance from federal and state health officials."

A spokesperson for Aetna/CVS Health said:

"The health and safety of our colleagues is our first priority. In making decisions about reopening our worksites, we continue to be guided by key public health markers, recommendations from the CDC and other scientific experts as well as state and local mandates. We currently plan to begin returning colleagues to our worksites in the September timeframe – recognizing that this could change as the public health situation remains fluid. Once a decision has been made that it is safe to begin to reopen our offices, we will do so in a gradual, carefully staggered way.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced that our colleagues can work well together, innovate and deliver results outside the traditional office environment. Our new approach to work will include a combination of in-person and virtual work. We believe this is the right overall approach for our company at this time – one that will help us be more flexible in supporting colleagues’ and customers’ needs and enhance our colleague experience. We fully expect our approach will evolve over time as we learn what is working well and where we need to adjust."

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