How the CEOs of Apple, Nike, Citi, and more are pivoting their return-to-work plans in the wake of Omicron
With the Omicron COVID variant rapidly spreading in the U.S. and abroad, companies are on red alert when it comes to deciding what to do about their return-to-office plans. And while some employees might be itching to come back to headquarters, it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to do that anytime soon.
Last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook sent out a memo to company employees sharing that the rise in COVID-19 cases and concerns around the new Omicron variant will push the initially planned Feb. 1 return-to-office date to “a date yet to be determined.” This is the latest of many delays in Apple’s return-to-office plans, which were originally scheduled for June 2020. Cook also said in the memo that every employee, including retail workers, would receive a $1,000 bonus to be used for work-from-home needs.
Apple shut down three stores in the U.S. and Canada last week due to heightened COVID-19 cases, the New York Times reported.
Apple did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.
A leaked email published by Insider last week showed Nike planned to push forward with its return-to-office schedule, mandating employees to come in three days a week beginning on Jan. 10. In the email, the company referred to January as an “on-ramp period…to ease back into a new normal.”
However, another internal memo, sent just a couple of days later on Dec. 17, informed employees that they would not return to the office on Jan. 10 as planned and would work remotely indefinitely, Footwear News reported Monday after viewing the memo.
“Experts are predicting case levels to surge in the coming weeks, which coincides with our planned return to our workplaces,” the memo read. Monique Matheson, the chief human resources officer, wrote in the memo that the company would go forward with its requirement of three days in the office a week when the U.S. Nike offices reopen. Boosters are not required but are encouraged at Nike, according to Footwear News.
Nike has not publicly announced its return-to-office plans, although it did delay a September return after a surge in cases of the Delta variant.
Nike did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.
It looks like the global investment bank is preparing for the consequences of the Omicron variant, as it told its London staff last week to work from home if they are able. The U.K. has been hit especially hard by the new variant.
Goldman Sachs brought most of its U.S. workers back to the office this summer and has not recently announced any plans to change that due to the Omicron variant. Since October, CEO David Solomon has publicly been eager for a full return to office.
The company hosted holiday office gatherings over the last few weeks but canceled the rest of its in-person celebrations last week because of concern over COVID-19, according to Reuters. While this cancellation applies to the New York office, Goldman Sachs is reportedly allowing smaller teams to gather for parties, according to the New York Times.
Goldman Sachs did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.
CEO James Gorman told CNBC on Dec. 13 he “was wrong” to believe that the pandemic wouldn’t last past Labor Day of this year. Now he believes COVID-19 will still be a concern for 2022, given the new variants.
“Everybody’s still finding their way, and then you get the Omicron variant. Who knows; we’ll have Pi, we’ll have Theta and Epsilon, and we’ll eventually run out of letters of the alphabet. It’s continuing to be an issue,” Gorman told CNBC.
He previously told employees over the summer that he’d be “very disappointed” if he didn’t see more staff returning to in-person work by September. Currently, more than half of Morgan Stanley employees are working at company headquarters in New York, although they have the option to work from home, CEO James Gorman told CNBC on Dec. 13.
There is “no fixed date when employees are required to return to the workplace,” a spokesperson for Morgan Stanley told Fortune last week. At that time, the company was not planning to send home employees who were currently working in the office.
Work from home arrangements are handled by separate departments within the company, and Morgan Stanley does not have a companywide work-from-home policy.
“We expect that employees who are not required to be in the office will take advantage of that flexibility to work from home and spend more time with their families,” a spokesperson told Fortune on Monday.
Like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley is also reportedly allowing individual departments to gather for holiday celebrations, according to the New York Times.
With an original return-to-office date set in February of this year, the rideshare app company said earlier this month that it will allow all employees to work from home throughout the entirety of 2022. Offices will fully reopen in February 2022 for employees who want to come in, but being in-person will be optional for the whole year.
A spokesperson for Lyft told Fortune Monday that when it came to the decision to delay in-person returns, the “primary driver was to provide team members with the flexibility they’d been asking for for a number of reasons, including many that aren’t related to the pandemic.”
Although Lyft does not have any plans to adopt a fully remote model long-term, the company does intend to consider its teams’ opinions in the plan going forward.
Uber has pushed back its return-to-office plans indefinitely, originally set for Jan. 10. In an email sent to employees in early December, the company wrote, “Since things keep shifting, we’ve decided to no longer have a global [return-to-office] target date for the time being. Many of our offices are open and will remain open, and we’ll continue to make them great places to connect, work, and eat with others. If you’re comfortable going in, we encourage you to do so, but being in the office won’t be required until further notice,” The Hill reported.
In September 2021, the company switched to a hybrid model, giving employees the option to work from home for up to two days a week.
The company told Fortune on Monday that employees would receive 30 days’ notice before any callback to the hybrid model.
With COVID cases spiking in the New York City metropolitan area, Citigroup advised its employees in New York and New Jersey last week to start working from home again through the holidays. “This was not a mandate, and our offices remain open to ensure critical business operations,” a spokesperson told Fortune Monday.
The decision was made with the intent to protect employees’ holidays plans and reduce the number of people coming into the offices in New York City and Jersey City. Since September, Citi’s New York City employees have been required to come into the office at least two times a week.
The bank’s CEO, Jane Fraser, has been a vocal proponent of the hybrid work model, promising staffers in March that they would be able to permanently work from home at least two days a week.
A spokesperson told Fortune last week that Citi will “continue closely monitoring the data” in determining next steps.
Google has pushed back its plans for in-person work, postponing the Jan. 10 return date earlier this month for workers worldwide. The Omicron variant and new travel restrictions have “triggered global uncertainty,” Google’s president for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Matt Brittin, reportedly told employees in an email on Dec. 2. So far, the tech giant has not announced a new return-to-office date.
Google did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.
The motor company’s plans to return to office by January have been pushed back to March, although there are still plans to bring back a limited number of employees in February to test a “flexible hybrid” system.
“We will begin with a pilot phase for select employees in February, and in March we will expand it so all non–site dependent team members can begin working flexibly between Ford campuses and remote options,” Ford said in a statement sent to Fortune on Monday.
CNN sent a memo to internal employees on Saturday announcing that it would close all U.S. offices to any employees who do not have to be there. If people need to work in the building, they must be masked and vaccinated, the memo states.
“We are doing this out of an abundance of caution. And it will also protect those who will be in the office by minimizing the number of people who are there,” CNN president Jeff Zucker wrote.
CNN did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.
The NBCUniversal News Group
The NBCUniversal News Group sent out an email last week advising its employees to work from home if they are able until they receive further direction from the company, the company reported.
The NBCUniversal News Group did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.
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