With Mask Mandates Lifting, Will Return-to-Office Mandates Begin?

By Sam DeBaltzo

With revisions to Oregon mask-mandates beginning as early as March 11 and Governor Kate Brown expected to lift the state of emergency on April 1, one has to wonder if and when Portland’s remote employees will be required to return to their downtown offices again. While some companies have remained “in-office” throughout the pandemic, many have remained closed or allowed employees to come in on an optional basis – and a significant portion of Portland offices remain vacant.

There is no crystal ball for us to know how employees will respond to the various office-reopening options. However, we do know that employers that have so far enforced return-to-office requirements have had mixed results, as employees grapple with whether to return or quit and look for remote options. Notably, in an interesting shift from last year, as state and federal restrictions lift, the question is changing from whether employers can safely bring employees back to whether employees want to come back at all.

As with everything in the midst of a pandemic, it is unclear how things will play out for the Portland downtown office scene. What is for certain, is that employees have more options to work remotely than ever before, and employers would be wise to keep this in mind as they consider returning to a normal that seems to no longer exist. My own prediction is that the pre-pandemic levels of in-office employees will not return.