At the height of pandemic lockdowns, almost 85% of Verizon's 135,500 employees worked from home. Now, as part of its "phase three" response to COVID-19, Verizon is outlining how it plans to gradually return some of those employees to an office in what company officials describe as Verizon's new "business as usual."
"This will be our new normal," said Verizon HR chief Christy Pambianchi in a message to employees.
Verizon's new plan – released Monday – is an example of how one massive network operator is navigating uncharted waters as states around the US begin easing unprecedented lockdown orders designed to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
"This is not easy things we're going through here," added Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg in the message.
Pambianchi explained that, starting next month, Verizon will begin testing ways for its employees to return to their offices. Starting July 6, Verizon hopes to allow up to 25% of its employees to return to office work at any given time, she said.
However, the company said there will be plenty of caveats: Employees will be required to wear masks when they're not at their desks, and Verizon will soon begin mailing reusable masks to its employees for that requirement. Pambianchi added that employees may have their temperature checked prior to entering Verizon offices, and that they will be required to work at least 1.8 meters apart from each other at their desks. (For those of us who are not network engineers, 1.8 meters is 6 feet.)
And Pambianchi said that Verizon's office workers would be divided into four different groups, with each group taking a turn in the company's offices.
Verizon's office workers join the company's retail employees and field technicians in navigating a post-lockdown work environment. Since they are considered essential, the company's technicians continued to work in locations where they could, though the company did develop a process that allowed some technicians to remotely guide customers through the installation of their own equipment rather than entering a customer's home themselves. And Verizon closed roughly 70% of its retail stores to stem the spread of COVID-19, but hopes to open half of its stores by June.
One group of Verizon employees who are not coming back to the office – at least not yet – are the company's call center employees. Pambianchi said they will stay at home at least until September.
Verizon, of course, isn't the only major tech company developing a strategy for the remainder of the year. For example, Twitter said it will allow its employees to work from home indefinitely. However, Verizon has become unique in the wireless industry by peeling back the curtain on its efforts to respond to the pandemic.
When questioned on the same topic last week, AT&T's CFO offered a very vague look at his company's COVID-19 efforts. "For us, it's a focus on our people, on the people, our employees and our customers, trying to make sure we keep them safe and take all the precautions necessary, whether it's giving them new guidance on travel, whether it's allowing them to work from home, whether it's doing some of the deep cleaning of our retail stores and making sure that there's the appropriate cleansing materials out there for all of our stores," explained AT&T's John Stephens, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of his remarks. "We're spending a lot of time working with authorities."