Thousands of employees at insurance giant Travelers in downtown Hartford returning to office in September but with option of working at home part of the week

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Travelers Cos., a major downtown Hartford employer, said Thursday that thousands of its employees will be returning to office beginning in mid-September, but they are being offered the option to work from home up to two days each week, as the property-casualty insurer transforms its workplace in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Of course, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. We have some employees who choose to or whose roles require them to work from the office full time, and others who have fully remote positions,” Diane Kurtzman, chief human resources officer at Travelers, said in a statement.

The change, which takes effect Sept. 13, is significant for Travelers, founded in the city in 1864 and where the insurer, now with a global reach, still occupies its landmark tower on Main Street. Travelers employs about 7,000 in the Hartford area, the majority in downtown Hartford.

In the past decade, corporate employers such as Travelers have been moving toward allowing more employees to work from home. But the pandemic, which forced whole populations of employees to shift to working remotely, is expected to dramatically transform the workplace in the 21st century.

Last week, jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney said it plans to make working from home permanent for thousands of salaried workers at its East Hartford headquarters and downsize its office space on the campus by half. The shift to remote work affected 80% of salaried workers at Pratt in Connecticut, the majority in East Hartford.

David Griggs, president and chief executive of the MetroHartford Alliance, said Thursday that companies of all sizes are taking a serious look at working from home arrangements, as was the case with Pratt & Whitney.

“A lot of companies are going to follow suit, but maybe not to same percentages as Pratt did,” Griggs said.

Across the country, there are strong indications that “hybrid” workplaces — with office and at-home components — will become part of the working landscape post-pandemic.

A survey in June by Chicago-based staffing firm LaSalle Network found that 77% of employers planned a hybrid office in the future, consistent with a similar survey in March. The survey tapped into 350 chief executives, chief operating officers and human resource officers on sentiments and plans for returning to the office.

Experts say the return to the office could be bumpy for some as they have grown accustomed to the flexibility of working at home.

State employees represented by several unions have challenged Gov. Ned Lamont’s order that most workers return to office on July 1. A lawsuit was filed arguing that the union had signed an agreement with the Lamont administration in June, 2020 that required negotiations over returning to work.

A hybrid workplace is attractive to employers because potential space needs are less. But, on the flipside, that is raising worries about rising office vacancies and the ripple effect on restaurants in downtown areas not only in Hartford but elsewhere in Connecticut and across the country.

Griggs said the move to splitting the workweek between home and the office doesn’t necessarily mean there will not be enough people to support restaurants and other service-oriented businesses in downtown Hartford.

“We’re going to see as this hybrid environment plays itself out, the people that are downtown will be more likely to go out for lunch with a colleague or a business partner because they are downtown, because they are there that day,” Griggs said. “I don’t view the hybrid work environment necessarily a killer to a downtown businesses.”

Travelers said Thursday it does not currently have plans to consolidate office space.

When workers return to Travelers in September, seating will remain as it was before the pandemic, but over time, the insurer said, the configuration would move to a new “free address” office space model. In that model, employees who work four to five days in the office will have dedicated space and those who work fewer days in the office will have open seating.

Travelers’ Kurtzman said Thursday there are advantages to working in the office as well as remotely and the insurer worked to balance the benefits of each.

“But similar to how we approach many new situations, we’ll test and learn as we go,” she said. “We’ll also be continuing to take into account the guidance from federal and state health officials to ensure the safety of all our employees.”

Kenneth R. Gosselin can be reached at kgosselin@courant.com.

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