Large American companies are now withdrawing their plans to return to personal work in light of the Omicron variant’s rapid spread across America.
Employers who plan to call teleworkers back to the office in the new year are now halting this effort, and they are wary of setting new return dates only to push them back again in the face of continued uncertainty and risk from the pandemic.
The pandemic is also driving changes in how personal employees work, with renewed pressure for strikes and trade unions across several industries where workers have often encountered long hours and uncertain conditions.
Alphabet’s Google, Meta, Apple, Uber, Lyft, Ford, DoorDash, DocuSign and Fidelity are among the companies that have delayed returns to the office.
“It’s justified, given the progress we’ve seen in cases,” said Bradford Bell, director of the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies at Cornell University’s ILR School. The delays also depend on where the offices are located, he said. “They look at this a lot from place to place.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook told employees in a note Wednesday that the partial return to offices, scheduled for Feb. 1, has now been postponed to a “date yet to be determined,” following several other delays in the past two years. Cook offered employees a $ 1,000 bonus to improve their home offices.
Apple’s offices remain open and employees continue to work in countries with lower Covid prices, he said. But he pointed in particular to the global increase in cases and the emergence of the Omicron variant as a cause for concern.
Google and Uber were among the first to announce the indefinite delays in early December after planning a return in early January. Google planned to fully reopen offices by January 10, but has now postponed this deadline indefinitely, even though offices in several places have already reopened.
Meta planned to open in early 2022, but is now allowing workers to return as late as June. Janelle Gale, the company’s vice president of human resources, said “some are not quite ready to return”.
In contrast, Twitter became completely external forever in October.
Lift’s offices will open in February, but workers may stay away all next year – one of the longest delayed returns, in part due to concerns over Omicron and other variants that may arise.
Fidelity Investments said on Monday that they are stopping plans to return to work. DocuSign has delayed its fourth attempt to return.
DoorDash’s corporate employees were to return to the office in 2022 in a hybrid approach, but now the company is waiting to see what the new plan will be.
Ford plans to return with a hybrid work model for employees working at headquarters in January, but it is now scheduled for March.
In particular, hourly employees at Ford returned to personal work in May 2020. And concert workers at Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and elsewhere have continued to work through the pandemic, despite the fact that they often feel insecure at work.
About half of the full-time employees in the survey in the US said that their jobs could be done externally, according to a Gallup survey. And almost a third of the workers said they never wanted to work in the office; the majority wanted a hybrid model.
In September, 45% of full-time employees worked externally some or all of the time, with nine out of 10 teleworkers wanting to continue that way, according to a Gallup survey.
One-third of employees who can work remotely do so, according to a survey by Willis Towers Watson, a global consulting firm. This number was expected to fall in 2022, before Omicron arrived.
One of the challenges for companies is “trying to build momentum when it comes to getting people back to the office,” Bell said. Companies are worried that if they open their offices before employees are ready, the pace will stop – and they are on guard against forcing someone back with office mandates. “So they’re waiting for the right time to really make it happen,” Bell said.
The pandemic can bring lasting changes in the ways we work – for those who have jobs that can be done remotely.
“It’s definitely a real problem” for those who can not work remotely, Bell said. “I think that’s why we’re seen an increase in strikes and other things in recent months where people want – not necessarily equal conditions of competition, but want their victims to be recognized by employers.”
Personal employees should continue to be supported to work safely, including masking, distancing, and vaccination mandates.
“All of these things mean something,” Bell said.
The US is experiencing record low unemployment even though cases are rising.
“It’s a hectic moment, and it’s a time when I think the dynamics of power have really changed, with the great resignation and the shortage of labor,” Bell said. “It has put labor in the driver’s seat,” with features like the first Starbucks Association, in Buffalo, New York, he said.
“Employees realize that they have the upper hand to some degree and can therefore really start to bring these issues to the forefront.”