Logging on from home became a new way of life three years ago as employers scrambled to maintain homebound productivity during a pandemic.

Now, they say it’s time to return to the cubicles.

Both Amazon and Starbucks recently told their corporate workers to return to the office at least three days a week starting in May.

Two large San Antonio employers have recently followed the back-to-the-office trend: USAA recently announced changes to company policies involving working from home or office, and Whataburger this week asked its corporate workers to return to the office four days a week. 

Nationwide, office space occupancy has reached just over 50% this year, up from just 20% a year ago, indicating “a genuine move toward recovery,” according to Kastle Systems

The Austin-based corporate security firm has been tracking building access data through its app, keycard and fob usage in 10 major cities since March 2020. 

In addition to the national trend upward, the data shows Austin, Houston and Dallas workers are returning to work at rates closer to 60%, somewhat above the top-10 average. 

Occupancy across the board is highest on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as many workers have adopted a hybrid in-office and at-home schedule. Attendance figures still lag on Mondays and Fridays, with only about one in three workers going into the office on weekend-eve, stated the report.

Though not all major San Antonio employers embraced remote work during the pandemic or after, the future of work is likely hybrid, according to a New York Times report, citing major corporate consulting firms. 

But as employers try to set boundaries on what is expected in a post-pandemic environment, the so-called “choose your own adventure” approach could be a thing of the past.

Today’s employers are putting guardrails around schedules while appearing to give employees some say.

Three options

Insurance, banking and financial services firm USAA, which employs 19,000 people in San Antonio, has about 5 million square feet of office space at its amenity-filled headquarters in northwest San Antonio. USAA recently closed its downtown office buildings, recalling those workers to the main campus.

Prior to the pandemic, about 20% of all USAA employees, based in locations throughout the country, worked remotely. But when the pandemic began in 2020, a full 98% stayed home for nearly a year

Recently, USAA came up with new in-office requirements, giving employees three ways to choose to work depending on the person’s role in the company, said spokesman Christian Bove. 

Workers could choose to report for duty at the office, work remotely from home or hybrid of the two, which means three days in the office each week. 

“Working in the office three or more days per week provides flexibility while also enabling teamwork, collaboration, and a sense of belonging so we can be at our best to serve our members,” Bove said in an emailed statement. 

A Wall Street Journal report that said all of USAA’s remote workers who live within a 60-mile radius of the office are being reclassified as hybrid workers is not entirely accurate, Bove said.

“There are some remote roles that will be transitioning to hybrid, but it varies across the company based on a number of different factors,” he said.

Remote weeks

At Valero spinoff NuStar, headquarters employees returned full-time to the office at 19003 IH-10 West in November 2021, said company spokesman Chris Cho. 

With that return came some perks for employees. 

Workers with jobs that can be done remotely — which is the majority of the 500 people NuStar employs — have the option to work remotely one day a week, either Monday or Friday. 

They can also choose two weeks a year to work from home. 

San Antonio-based Whataburger went a similar route. The corporate headquarters of the fast-food chain announced March 6 that employees should work in the main office at 300 Concord Plaza Dr. weekly, Monday through Thursday, with Fridays open as a remote-work day. 

But workers could also choose three weeks per year to work fully remote, said a spokeswoman. 

San Antonio’s tech sector is taking a wide range of approaches to the evolution of in-office versus remote working, said TechBloc CEO David Heard.

Workers at his network security company, SecureLogix, remain fully remote, Heard said, and the company is subleasing most of its office space to other businesses. 

But federal and military tech workers appear to be working from the office, due to the nature of their missions, he said. 

Heard based his impressions on what he saw during frequent video conference calls, which became ubiquitous during the pandemic. 

“I am on a number of Zoom calls with groups of employees from eight to 10 other tech companies that we regularly partner with, including two very large telecom service providers and several mid-sized firms in Seattle, San Francisco and other states,” he said. Not many appear to be working in a corporate setting.

“Most seem to be dialing in from a home office,” he said.

Heard also sees a greater number of job listings that note the employer allows remote work as a benefit, which “speaks to a general sense that many (but not all) workers are looking for more work-from-home flexibility,” he said.

“In other words, you never see a company post a position and brag that ‘it’s all in the office!’ with the idea that somehow that’s going to be appealing to very many people.”

San Antonio-based Frost Bank is one of those employers that is including in job listings whether the work is remote or in-office. There are many positions available, said spokesman Bill Day. 

A third of the bank’s employees are working full-time in its various office locations across the city and at Frost Tower, Day said. This includes bank employees, technical workers and others whose work requires them to be onsite. 

Another third split their time between the office and home according to a set schedule, and the remainder work mostly remotely, going to the office as needed, he said. 

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.