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American Express CEO to employees: Plan to work from home for the rest of 2020

Brian Sozzi
Editor-at-Large

American Express (AXP) is the latest household name corporation to paint a picture publicly as to how work life will look different in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And the credit card giant will look different (it will for other companies, too), as it will gradually return its workspaces to some form of normalcy. But even that semblance of normalcy will take on a new dynamic for Amex employees compared to the pre-COVID days.

“We still don’t know exactly when we will start coming back, but we expect it will take several months in most locations. The key here is that returning to the office will not happen all at once. We will open buildings on a location-by-location, floor-by-floor, and colleague-by-colleague basis as each location and floor is different. The main thing to understand is that the work environment will be completely different when we go back than when we left,” said American Express CEO Stephen Squeri in a video message to employees on Monday.

American Express has more than 64,000 employees worldwide.

FILE - In this July 19, 2011, file photo, passers-by walk past an American Express logo near the entrance to a bank in the Harvard Square neighborhood of Cambridge, Mass. American Express posted a 6 percent increase in profits for the first quarter, Thursday, April 16, 2015, but the company's results took a hit from a stronger U.S. dollar. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

Added Squeri, “Philosophically, the way we’re looking at it is that for the most part our offices in the near term will be an alternative work space for people. If you can work from home and you do not want to come in, you do not have to come in. In fact, if you can work from home effectively, you should plan on doing so for the rest of the year.”

Last week, Twitter said it would let some employees work from home forever. Facebook and Google plan to let workers do their tasks from home for the rest of the year, similar to American Express. Amazon has said employees could work from home until at least early October.

Here’s the full transcript of Squeri’s comments obtained by Yahoo Finance.

“I want to talk with you about a topic that’s top of mind for the EC and me – and likely for many of you – which is how we’re preparing for an eventual return to the office.

First and foremost, I want you to know that our number one priority and our guiding principle continues to be your health and safety.

I want to help paint a picture of what we’re discussing and what returning to the office will look like.

We still don’t know exactly when we will start coming back, but we expect it will take several months in most locations.

The key here is that returning to the office will not happen all at once.

We will open buildings on a location-by-location, floor-by-floor, and colleague-by-colleague basis as each location and floor is different.

The main thing to understand is that the work environment will be completely different when we go back than when we left.

Philosophically, the way we’re looking at it is that for the most part our offices in the near term will be an alternative work space for people. If you can work from home and you do not want to come in, you do not have to come in.

In fact, if you can work from home effectively, you should plan on doing so for the rest of the year.

However, some colleagues are not able to work from home for a number of reasons, such as internet access or physical space. And some jobs just do not lend themselves to being done as effectively from home.

So, we want to provide the option to return to our office locations, once we have all the right safety measures in place.

We’re going to be communicating with you in greater detail about all this in the coming weeks. For now, I’ll give you a general sense of how we’re approaching returning to the office.

We’ve established five areas to focus on:

We’re going to phase in the number of people in each location, starting slowly at as low as 10 percent occupancy. I want us to be prepared to be able to handle as much as 50 percent occupancy in most locations by the end of the year. But I want to be clear that I don’t expect us to get anywhere near the 50 percent mark by the end of 2020.

We’ll base our decisions for opening facilities on a number of factors, including the health conditions in each area, guidance from local government and health officials, and transportation options.

But let me be clear, we will not lead on this. We will take our time to get it right.

The second area is movement and activity – we’ll have procedures for seating and moving around in each building to ensure people are social distancing and aren’t clustered together.

The way to think about it is that we’ll be working virtually from the office.

That means no meetings in conference rooms, and no visitors or contractors in our buildings for the time being. You won’t be able to sit in the cafeterias; food will be delivered to floors.

We’ll be limiting the number of people in elevators and scheduling times for arrivals and departures. And facial coverings will be required when you’re entering and moving about the building.

The third area of focus is safety – we’ll be enhancing our cleaning protocols, making hand sanitizers readily available and optimizing our air conditioning systems.

Our fourth area is enhanced screening and monitoring of everyone entering our offices, including ways to measure temperatures. We want people who are sick to stay home to protect the health of others.

The last key area we’re focusing on is communication.

I assure you that communication will continue to be frequent and transparent. We want everyone to know what to expect and how to get answers to questions, and you will hear more details about our plans in the coming weeks.

Let me close, for now, by saying that American Express is not defined by our physical locations but by how we get things done and how we treat our colleagues and customers.

We have done a great job of exiting our facilities and running the company virtually. We’re more agile, flexible, and less bureaucratic. It’s been inspiring to see, and I want to keep it that way.

We need to be careful and thoughtful about how we return – ensuring that our colleagues are safe and that we continue improving the way we work together.

We need to get this right, and we will get this right.

As this situation has proved once again, we are more than a series of buildings with our name on the door. We are over 60,000 colleagues strong, serving our customers and helping each other no matter where we are sitting.

I want to thank each one of you for what you do every day. I am very proud of all of you.

Stay safe and stay healthy.”

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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