If we have learned anything during COVID, we know that “the best-laid plans of mice and men” can go terribly awry. Back in early 2021, when vaccines were being deployed across the Western world, many of the world’s largest companies began planning how they would bring their workforce back into their offices. There was quite a bit of optimism at that time, as strict travel restrictions started to relax, and the world began to open up once again. Then, as we all know, the world got a crash course in the Greek alphabet. That did not stop many of the world’s largest companies, especially banks, from making firm, heavy-handed commitments about a great return happening at the beginning of 2022. But the rise of Omicron has stymied the plans of even the most aggressive supporters of the return to office movement. Here is where things stand with some of the world’s leading companies:
Apple: the world’s first three-trillion-dollar company has decided to push back its return-to-office date until February. When the company announced last summer that employees would be expected back in the office by September 2021, they were met with intense backlash. Then, the delta variant made this return date infeasible, which is why the target was eventually moved to 2022. From March, employees will follow a hybrid model, which requires them to come into the office on Monday, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. The world is curious to see how this hybrid model functions in a post-pandemic, mid-endemic world.
Goldman Sachs: the investment bank’s CEO does not agree with analysts who say that working from home is here to stay (he once referred to remote work as an “aberration”). But even though Goldman Sachs planned for a full return to office for 3 January, on Sunday, 2 January, the bank’s employees received an email informing them that they should work remotely until 18 January because of sky-high infection rates. Even though CEOs in more conservative, traditional industries have been
Google: the tech giant has chosen to push back its 10 January return-to-office date indefinitely into 2022. According to the company’s chief security officer, they only want to bring employees back once they can provide a “stable, long-term working environment”. Their word choice was not coincidental: most employees value stability highly, especially after the pandemic started. For certain employees, such as parents, it is especially critical to know that it will all be worth it if they are going to expend significant resources on childcare.
JP Morgan: the New York-based bank has a long history of fits and starts when it comes to ending remote work. They have repeatedly announced return-to-office dates, witnessed virus surges or variant outbreaks, then delayed returns by several months. This stop-and-go process is less than ideal, and though understandable, it does not foster employee trust. The bank recently announced that most of its employees would need to return to the office on 1 February. Whether that date is ambitious or ridiculous will be decided by how long the current Omicron case number explosion lasts.
You might have noticed a trend among these companies: they are all in very privileged, profitable industries. The problems faced by finance and tech are problems that 89% of the American workforce has already resolved: as of November 2021, only about 11 per cent of employees were teleworking due to COVID-related issues. But the most profitable employees have always been the most vocal about making sure their needs are met. COVID did not change that, and although hybrid models will be more commonplace going forward, the best, most employee-centric versions will almost certainly be available to privileged employees in privileged industries. Yet, in this case, privilege has been earned.