Delta Dawn: Virus Variant Creates Business Uncertainty

A new, fast-moving variant jolted the steady pandemic recovery, leading some business leaders to rethink their timelines for workers’ return to the office.

NEW YORK – An increase in U.S. COVID-19 cases has more companies reconsidering their timelines to get employees back into the office. The highly contagious delta variant is spreading new concerns, just as many companies have been preparing to bring workers back to the office this fall.

Several tech companies, such as Google and Apple, recently delayed their return dates from September to October. The ride-hailing company Lyft pushed back its return-to-office date by six months to Feb. 2, 2022. The New York Times indefinitely postponed its plans to return to the office.

Realogy CEO Ryan Schneider told CNBC that the brokerage is renovating its New Jersey headquarters to embrace hybrid work for the long haul. “We’re knocking down walls pretty soon, and we’re making it into a much more collaborative space,” Schneider says. “Instead of having 1,000 people a day here, we want 250 a day here, but to do a collaboration.”

Some companies – recognizing that some employees are ready to return to work in person at an office – are giving their staff members the option to decide, though they may be limiting that invitation to the vaccinated and those who wear a mask.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its guidance on indoor masking. In that vein, Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, now requires all its employees to wear masks in the areas most affected by the delta variant. Other companies are following suit.

“As organizations push return dates out further, there will be a greater need for flexibility on return-to-office requirements,” says George Penn, vice president of HR practices at the enterprise research firm Gartner. “If the company is performing well and individual employees are performing well remotely, many will beg the question, ‘Why are you mandating a return?’”

Penn predicts that many organizations may consider a shorter-term delay than a longer one, such as Lyft’s six-month extension.

Workers heading back to the office or anticipating a return soon say their top concern is getting sick from COVID-19 and losing flexibility in their workday, according to the June McKinsey report.

“People want to be assured that precautions are maintained, and they aren’t being forced back to work for the sake of the bottom line,” says Bruce Y. Lee, professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy.

Source: “Companies Are Already Pushing Their Return-to-office Dates to 2022 – Why Some Experts Say It’s a ‘Smart Approach,” CNBC (July 30, 2021) and “Realogy CEO Says Remote Work Is Here to Stay and the Firm Is Renovating Its Own HQ to Prepare,” CNBC (July 29, 2021)

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