As the number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the Garden State, plenty of workers and the people who employ them still don't know exactly when operations will continue fully at the office.

In most cases, a full return to the workplace likely won't occur until 2021 due to safety concerns, new poll findings suggest. While technology has allowed that to be no big deal for companies that can virtually get all work done with employees completing their tasks from home, it's less than ideal for businesses that rely on face-to-face collaboration to succeed the way they'd like.

"Businesses are looking forward to bringing that back into the culture, but certainly in a way that is safe for their workforce," said Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

Right now, companies across New Jersey are working vigorously on new workplace policies that ensure safety protocols are followed throughout their buildings, Siekerka said. That could mean one-way stairs or hallways, or a limit on how many people can be on an elevator at one time.

In a national survey of workers by The Conference Board, just 28% said they expect to return to the workplace by the end of 2020. A third of respondents said productivity has remained high while working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, and they "question the wisdom of returning."

Only 17% of respondents said they feel "very comfortable" returning to work. Close to 30% have little faith in their colleagues' ability to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines.

"We need to have policies and strategies to address that we're just in a new paradigm," Siekerka said. "We keep saying, this isn't just about reopening and recovery; this is about reinvention."

NJBIA runs its own health workplace certification program for members. As of Friday, 150 businesses had gone through the program, and 50 were certified as being OSHA and CDC-compliant for worker safety.

"What makes up a business is a good, competitive and healthy workforce, and if you don't have workers, you can't get your job done," Siekerka said.

Given several options to choose from, respondents in the survey from The Conference Board said their top concern about returning to the workplace is the risk of contracting COVID-19 personally. More than 90% of respondents said the widespread availability of a vaccine likely wouldn't jump start a return to the office.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at

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