COLUMBUS, Ind. — As COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to climb across the state, larger employers are offering a return to in-person employment to their staff.
Well, some of them.
Cummins Corporate Office Building along Jackson Street in Columbus welcomed back 1,500 fully-vaccinated employees who volunteered to return as part of a new pilot test group.
Cummins management says if all goes to plan, the time to return is soon, if you’d like to.
“We don’t want everybody just to snap back into the old ways, right? We really do want that flexibility,” Cummins Director of External Communications Jon Mills said. “Our leadership has recognized the productivity has been strong. They want to provide the employees with the right working environment, and employees have expressed flexibility as a key to how we return to work, how we operate going forward.”
Cummins’ newly renovated corporate office space in Columbus and every other building, besides their manufacturing operations, has sat empty for over a year.
“So each site will have some flexibility to determine when is the right time based on the pandemic and employee safety, which is our priority,” Mills said. “The idea is, you know, this pilot goes on for several weeks and, you know, if it is successful, and no reason to think it won’t be, then we begin to look at how we phase in the other sites.”
1,500 employees who expressed a desire to return to in-person employment were granted permission to return on one condition: they be fully vaccinated. Medical experts say there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to.
“We are now at a point where I think it’s starting to make more sense and can be safely done,” Dr. Christopher Doehring, VP of medical affairs at Franciscan Health of Central Indiana. “With the community spread as low as it is, when you add on top of that 100% or near 100% vaccine amongst that group, that cohort of folks, it makes an incredibly safe environment.”
The only risk now, according to Dr. Doehring, would be the presence or emergence of a strain unfazed by the current vaccine.
“That could, sort of, throw a wrench in this plan, but right now with as well as the vaccine is performing against the variants that we have in Indiana, coupled with the low background rate of spread in the community,” Dr. Doehring said. “But I think it’s a very well thought out and should be safe approach for companies that are taking that approach.”
Presence of a risk and increased productivity has led employers like Cummins to continue to allow their employees the choice to stay home if they so desire. It’s an opportunity Mills takes advantage of.
“I’m at home now, yeah,” Mills said. “You know for me, as somebody who gets up early, I’m able to get on the computer and get a lot of things done really quickly and early, and just I feel like I’m more productive than I would be after a commute and tasks that take too much time, frankly. There are employees, like me, who wanna work from home all the time. They’ve really become adept at doing that. Others, you know, are more eager to return to work.”
But for those who do wish to return, if you’re not presently part of the pilot, you’ll likely have to wait a bit longer at least six weeks.
“In that time we’ll of course evaluate what we’ve learned. What went well, if we had any challenges, we’ll take those into consideration, because we want the phased-in return to work to be safe, efficient, effective, so that it feels good to employees as they return as well,” Mills said. “We’re doing this in a way that we believe is best for the employees, the health and mental and safety of our employees, also the communities are a factor as well.”
Cummins employees will soon be categorized in three groups to best accommodate their preferred work preference: on-site, hybrid and off-site.
There is no definitive timetable available for the return of in-person employment for the Cummins site in downtown Indianapolis.