Memo from antsy executives: Plans to return to in-person work are real this time.

Memo from antsy executives: Plans to return to in-person work are real this time.

Executives at the investment firm TIAA are especially proud of one aspect of their back-to-work plans: The company is on only its second round of setting a return-to-office date. They first hoped to bring employees back in January, but were derailed by the Omicron variant. Now the firm is targeting March 7.

“We noticed other employers were saying, ‘We’ll be back in April.’ ‘We’ll be back in June.’ But we said we need some certainty,” said Sean Woodroffe, the head of human resources at TIAA, which has 12,000 U.S. employees. “This March 7 date is only the second time we announced a date.”

And Mr. Woodroffe is facing this new return-to-office date with optimism, he explained, seated at his desk in front of a glimmering cityscape, high above what he described as the bustling “vibe” of Midtown Manhattan. After all, the firm has a 98 percent Covid-19 vaccination rate, employees have been supplied with at-home tests and the line at the Third Avenue Wendy’s has been inching longer during lunchtime.

“With Omicron, we realized that we needed to pivot from thinking about coming back into the office when Covid vanishes,” he said. “We recognized we have to pivot to how do you responsibly cope with Covid?”

The two-year mark since many American businesses sent their office workers home is approaching, and some antsy executives have delivered a long-delayed message: Return-to-office plans are real this time (fingers crossed). Managers are hanging up welcome balloons and dusting off monitors with a sense of confidence. Coronavirus tests are widely available, including some provided by employers. Many businesses know the majority of their employees are vaccinated. Many workers have recovered from Omicron and are resuming indoor social activities.

Executives are entering the next zone of return-to-office planning with what psychologists call “stress-related growth.” They have endured a sustained period of tumult. They are emerging feeling hopeful, equipped with new insights about how to respond when Covid cases surge and how to keep workers safe while businesses are open: by encouraging testing and imposing vaccine rules.

“There’s a very strong feeling we’re coming out on the other side,” said Keith McFall, the chief operating officer of the staffing provider Express Employment Professionals, based in Oklahoma City, which reopened its renovated office on Feb. 7 after scaling back a phased reopening that had started in July and then delaying an intended January return.

And there’s a sense of near glee among some managers as their R.T.O. plans cement: “It was like back-to-school week, quite frankly,” said Chris Glennon, the vice president of global real estate and workplace at Intuit, who recently visited the company’s San Francisco office. Intuit fully reopened its offices on a voluntary basis on Jan. 18 and is continuing to weigh timing for a required return.

Mr. Glennon noted that the company’s consulting physician had recently started a call by saying he had nothing but good news to share.

“‘I said, ‘Hallelujah, it’s the first time we’ve been able to say that,’” he added.

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