Watch CBS News

Omicron variant's spread forces rethink of January return to office

U.S. braces for COVID surge before holidays
U.S. braces for COVID surge before holidays 03:23

Over the summer, corporate executives across a range of U.S. industries scrapped their plans to bring workers back to offices in the fall, instead circling what at the time may have seemed like distant dates in January for their return. Now a growing number of companies are again pushing pause as January approaches and COVID-19 infections surge.

Technology companies, banks, ride-sharing services and other enterprises this week announced they are delaying the date by which workers are expected to return. Businesses that already have butts in seats are sending workers home. A number of colleges and universities this week also announced they would revert to virtual learning models, effective immediately. 

Even company leaders who were once staunchly opposed to remote work, notably in the banking industry, are rethinking their positions on in-office work. James Gorman, CEO of investment bank Morgan Stanley, conceded this week he had been "wrong" about pushing for employees to come back when he said in June that he expected workers back at their desks by Labor Day, even threatening to cut pay for no-shows.

"If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office. And we want you in the office," Gorman said at a summer conference. He added at the time that "we do our work inside Morgan Stanley offices."

"It's continuing to be an issue"

Gorman has seemingly come to terms with remote work, at least for the time being, saying Monday on CNBC that "I was wrong on this. I thought we would have been out of it past Labor Day and we're not."

"I think we'll still be in it through most of next year," Gorman told the news outlet. "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 letters of the [Greek] alphabet. It's continuing to be an issue."

Morgan Stanley does not have a firm return-to-work date and remains in a sustained period of transition, a spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch. Asset managers Citadel, Blackstone and Millennium Management are also reverting to remote work as of this week, Bloomberg reported. 

Tech industry leaders Facebook and Google and ride-share company Lyft previously announced extensions of their remote-work phases. Lyft employees now have the option to work remotely for all of 2022. Apple is also delaying its January office return, and even giving employees a $1,000 stipend to spruce up their at-home workstations, according to reports.

"Never seen this before"

The announcements come as Covid cases rise across the country, with the Delta variant continuing to surge and the new, even more contagious Omicron variant demonstrating some ability to evade vaccines. Thirty-six states in the U.S. have detected the Omicron variant, meanwhile Delta continues to overwhelm hospitals across the nation. 

In New York City, which was once a virus hotspot, the mayor's public health adviser, Jay Varma, tweeted, "Um, we've never seen this before in #NYC," referring to a stark rise in the number of recent positive tests among residents. Positive tests tripled over a three-day period, according to testing data, with 7.8% of the city's PCR tests delivering positive results on Sunday.  

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.