Thousands of Georgians heading back to offices Monday, but many aren’t

Atlanta-based Equifax is among local companies that plans to start shifting teleworking employees back to corporate offices. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Atlanta-based Equifax is among local companies that plans to start shifting teleworking employees back to corporate offices. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Thousands of Georgians who have been teleworking during the coronavirus pandemic are being called back to their corporate offices starting next week, even as many companies adopt a slower approach.

Global Payments said thousands of its 7,000 employees in metro Atlanta and Columbus will return to offices over the next two weeks. The return is voluntary for its workers, and will include staggered work schedules, temperature checks and social distancing requirements, according to a spokeswoman for the financial technology company.

And Atlanta-based Equifax said up to half of its 2,200 local employees will be back in rearranged offices Monday and encouraged to wear masks in common areas, with no more than two people riding together in elevators.

The following week those employees will telework while the other half of local Equifax workers will be rotated in to offices. The process will continue weekly to make social distancing easier. The credit reporting company said the office return won’t include employees deemed higher risk by Centers for Disease Control guidelines or those who have someone in their household who is higher risk.

Other workers who aren’t ready to return to the office can discuss their situation with human resources contacts, according to Equifax spokesman Ben Sheidler. “We will be flexible to accommodate specific, individual circumstances, but our framework will remain consistent where practical.”

Decisions about when and how to return to work are complex for businesses. Many major local employers, including Coca-Cola, Southern Company and Fiserv, have yet to announce timetables for a widespread shift back to offices. Some say teleworking has worked out well, reducing pressure for a rapid return.

A Home Depot spokeswoman wrote that the company is moving forward “extremely cautiously” and that in coming weeks, “a very small group of associates” will return to its Paces Ferry Store Support Center.

Chick-fil-A said earlier that it would begin the first step of a three-tiered phase-in May 18, “with very limited numbers returning” initially. A spokeswoman declined Friday to provide more details.

A Georgia-Pacific spokesman emailed that less than 10% of its local staffers recently returned to offices.

“While we don’t have specific dates targeted at this time, we expect that more people will be returning over the course of June and July,” he wrote.

The CDC has published safety recommendations for offices, including but not limited to checking employees' temperatures and keeping desks six feet apart. It said "employees should wear a cloth face covering to cover their nose and mouth in all areas of the business," unless they have trouble breathing, can't tolerate wearing it or can't remove it without help.

At Equifax, most local employees have worked from home since mid-March and those efforts have been “very successful,” Sheidler wrote in an email. Still, he wrote, “We believe returning to our offices, safely and gradually, helps us begin to recover from this pandemic as a company and a community.”

The company has set cleaning protocols, acquired masks and sanitizer for employees, marked floors for where people should stand to ensure social distancing, created plans to allow only two people in bathrooms at one time and installed plastic shields by security guards in lobbies and cashier stands in cafeterias, where food will be grab-and-go only.

Some employees at Equifax apparently remain wary. “No one wants to be a test case for leaders with potentially life-threatening outcomes,” someone posted on job site Glassdoor.