President Donald Trump and some members of the business community have advocated for a rapid reopening to reverse the economic damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak, but major companies will return cautiously even as public officials remove restrictions — according to Stephanie Mehta, editor-in-chief of the business publication Fast Company.
“Business leaders are going to be much more cautious than public officials when it comes to returning their employees to work,” says Mehta, in a newly released interview, taped on April 27.
“I think leaders of big corporations, particularly those that have the luxury of having workforces that do work remotely already, or have the ability to work remotely, they’re going to really tiptoe into this,” she adds.
“I’m hearing, you know, Christmas, early 2021, before most of their workers come back into offices,” says Mehta, a former business reporter at The Wall Street Journal and executive editor at Fortune. “I imagine that those are businesses that will operate in places where it will be open for business, according to the local and state officials.”
Last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he expects 25% of the company’s employees to return to the office by the end of the year, and projects half of the company may work from home by 2030. A portion of the 250,000 employees at JPMorgan Chase could work from home on a rotational basis into perpetuity, Bloomberg reported.
Similarly, Twitter told its employees last month that many of them could work from home permanently. Meanwhile, all U.S. states have begun to reopen.
“Corporations are going to tread much more carefully,” Mehta says.
When the spread of the virus became widely known in March, states moved to close businesses and prevent large gatherings. By mid-April, 316 million people in at least 42 states were being urged to stay home by local or state orders, the New York Times reported. Meanwhile, more than 40 million people filed for unemployment in the span of 10 weeks.
As states begin to reopen, the country has sought to restore economic activity but a spike in coronavirus cases in some states like California, Florida, and Arizona has raised fears of a second wave of the virus.
A surprising jobs report released earlier this month showed the U.S. added nearly 2.5 million jobs in May, after shedding over 20 million jobs in April.
Mehta made the remarks in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
Since 2018, Mehta has served as the editor-in-chief of Fast Company. Prior to her current position, she worked in various reporting and editing roles at the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Bloomberg, and Vanity Fair.
At Fortune, she worked with Serwer, who left the publication in 2014 and became Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo Finance the following year.
Mehta praised companies that have found ways to continue paying workers despite a significant disruption to their business.
“We’ve seen a lot of corporations step up and say we’re going to continue to pay workers for the next two, three weeks, whether you’re able to come to work or not,” she says. “We’re going to rejigger the schedules, but your pay is assured.”
“We’ve seen a lot of employers do really interesting things where they’re trying to, again, sort of shift their employees resources,” says Mehta.
Meanwhile, Mehta criticized Trump’s response to the crisis, noting that it left an opening for the private sector, which mobilized to produce medical equipment and other supplies.
“Weirdly, business, which was never created for social impact purposes, seems to be taking the lead here in terms of showing inspiration and leadership.”