As Minnesota eases COVID restrictions, employers mull hybrid models for returning to the office

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The end of Minnesota’s COVID-19 restrictions is in sight.

As vaccination efforts progress, more employers are revealing plans to bring workers back to the office.

"I miss it, I miss being down here," said Kelsey Norton.

Like many Minnesotans, Norton made working from home her new normal for the last year. But she was excited to be back in her office in downtown St. Paul on Friday.

"I’m struggling a little bit working from home so to come back here without sounding corny I do get a little emotional walking up to the Landmark Center," Norton said.

"We are just so excited to have people back in downtown," said Joe Spencer, president of the St. Paul Downtown Alliance.

A return to the office is something Joe Spencer and the St. Paul Downtown Alliance is helping employers navigate.

"We think we’re going to see up to 20% returning starting next and over the next few weeks," Spencer said.

Walz plan to end most COVID restrictions by end of May, mask mandate by July 1

The St. Paul Downtown Alliance is working to keep downtown a welcoming space by adding more safety and street ambassadors. Plus they’re planning to have as many as 300 different fun events over the next several months.

"So that as you walk through these spaces there’s stuff to do and you see that kind of life and vitality that makes a downtown special," Spencer said.

One thing experts say may stick around is a hybrid work model where employees come to the office for part of the week and stay home the other days.

"I really do think the world has changed," said Scott Grausnick, employment expert with Harbinger Partners.

Grausnick believes a home-office lifestyle has been proven to be effective during this pandemic.

"You could work for a company in California from your cabin in Minnesota," he said. "That’s going to happen in the next months ahead of us."

Grausnick believes employers need to be flexible and that forcing a return to the office could drive people away.

"You really want your employees to be happy, and if you can put them in a position to be happier, they’re just going to be with you longer, they’re going to get more work done," Grausnick said.

Spencer said working in a shared office setting still has its benefits.

"You might have a little bit more flexibility, but by and large, being together in space is still going to be important," Spencer said.

While Norton sees benefits in both work settings, she has one idea that most Minnesotans might agree on.

"You could work from home some days. For instance, when bad snowstorms hit here, there’s no reason for us to risk our safety to drive anymore," Norton said.