Emergence of the Omicron variant has become a big migraine for global corporate giants just when everything was returning back to normal. The new COVID-19 variant has thrown several curveballs at these companies’ back-to-office plans for their employees. Companies like Jefferies, Ford Motor, Google, Meta and Apple have deferred their return-to-office plans in the wake of the new Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus. These firms are struggling to figure how the new COVID-19 variant would impact their operations and profits and many have also taken a wait-and-see stance as they assess the its spread and potential damage.
Investment bank and financial services company Jefferies Financial Group asked its employees to continue working from home due to a spate of COVID-19 cases. The US-based bank had over 40 new coronavirus cases including 10 and very few cases of hospitalisation on Tuesday this month.
“Our priority now is to best protect every one of you and your families,” Jefferies CEO Richard Handler wrote in a memo. He further said, “Effective today, we are cancelling all social events and entertainment until January 3,”it said.
They have also cancelled client parties and almost all travel. Jefferies has 4,500 employees and also has its offices in Asia and Europe at present. The bank has reinstated its mask mandate and has said that all its employees will have to get booster shots of the vaccine by January 31. More than 95 percent of its employees have been vaccinated and visitors to the office will also have to be fully vaccinated, as per CEO Richard Handler.
Search giant Google has pushed its return-to-office plans globally for January due to the concerns over the Omicron variant and resistance to company-mandated vaccination. After January 10, countries and locations can decide when to end work from home by factoring in local conditions.
“Beyond January 10, we will enable countries and locations to make determinations on when to end voluntary work-from-home based on local conditions,” Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said in an email to employees.
The US-based tech behemoth has also announced additional one-time cash bonus of $1,600 for all its employees including extended workforce and interns. This is the latest benefit offered by Google apart from its work-from home allowance and wellbeing bonus.
META (FORMERLY FACEBOOK)
Meta Platforms, formerly known as Facebook, said that it will fully reopen its offices in the US on January 31 while giving the employees an opportunity to delay their scheduled return by three to five months. It’s new “office deferral program” will ensure that employees have flexibility in returning back to offices.
“We recognise that some employees aren’t quite ready to come back. We continue to offer a variety of options to choose what works best for them, so our employees can make informed decisions about where they work,” Meta Human Resources VP Janelle Gale said.
Meta added that they will also stick to their earlier plans wherein employees who can work remotely can request for full-time remote work. The company added they are “closely monitoring” the Omicron situation and that all their employees based in the US should be vaccinated.
Tech megalith Apple has said that its employees will return to the office in February instead of January. Apple has pushed its return to office deadline from January 22 to February 1 as part of the company’s hybrid work system. Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed in an email that the company would adopt a phased return to office and that employees have to go to the office only twice a week.
As per his mail, this will be an initial setup and may continue for months after which the company will ask some employees to go to office at least thrice a week on Mondays, Thursdays and Tuesdays. Apple will allow some teams to work from home on Fridays and Wednesdays.
“For all that we’ve been able to achieve while many of us have been separated, the truth is that there has been something essential missing from this past year: each other. Video conferencing calling has narrowed the distance between us, to be sure, but there are things it simply cannot replicate,” Cook’s mail to employees read.
American carmaker Ford Motor said earlier this week that they will push their return-to-work hybrid plan to March next year due to the uncertain COVID-19 situation. Ford’s return-to-work hybrid plan is a combination of on-site and remote working.
The US automaker stated it will begin a pilot phase for select employees in February and March. “The state of COVID-19 virus remains fluid, and despite the success of our ongoing safety protocols and increased vaccination rates, we are shifting the start date of the hybrid work model to March,” Ford said in an email to its employees.
Ford requires most of its salaried employees in the US to be vaccinated by January 4. This covers Ford’s non-site-dependent employees and not the plant workers who are represented by the United Auto Workers union. The union and top US automakers have recommended vaccinations and booster doses for those workers but have not made it compulsory. Wearing masks in plants, however, is mandatory.
Largest US automaker General Motors (GM) said in its statement that it has not yet sent a formal return to workplace date to its salaried employees. The American auto behemoth said, “in light of the Omicron variant, we are monitoring the situation closely and continue to engage with multiple internal and external stakeholders.”
GM has not yet mandated vaccines for its salaried employees. GM put in place a plan known as “Work Appropriately” under which “teams have the flexibility to work where they can have the greatest impact.”
Stellantis NV is moving “to a flexible and agile work environment that enables our team to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.” Stellantis NV’s pilot program for North America, known as “New Era of Agility”, is expected to begin in early 2022.
The company is eyeing a hybrid working model wherein employees spend ~70 per cent of their time working remotely and 30 per cent in offices.
(With agency inputs)
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