Despite there being no immediate threat of an Omicron outbreak in the Bay Area and an overall lack of data on the new variant, the general uncertainty around it is very likely to cause big Bay Area tech companies and smaller offices alike to rethink their January return-to-the-office plans.
Many companies around the Bay Area have been gearing up to bring employees back to in-person meetings and such, at least a few days a week, starting in January. Not every business has made for-sure plans, and with the general malaise around work and everyone quitting their jobs this year, companies are trying to be careful as they navigate the next chapter of the never-ending pandemic.
As ABC 7 reports, Google/Alphabet has already confirmed that its January back-to-the-office hybrid plan is now up in the air thanks to the Omicron scare. But the company also says that in recent weeks, about 40% of its workforce has been back in the office anyway, so the January timeline is more about how often the rest of the workforce shows up.
Alphabet is waiting until after the new year to reassess its timeline.
Apple CEO Tim Cook told company employees in mid-November that its back-to-the-office schedule would be pushed to February, with everyone only required to show up once or twice a week for the first month. The three-day-a-week model (Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays) takes effect at Apple in March.
Anecdotally, SFist has heard about a number of downtown offices in San Francisco that are planning for more in-person work after the new year, and consequently a number of downtown restaurants have been gearing up for openings and reopenings — including Ramen Hiroshi, whose Kearny Street space was recently taken over by thieves who threw an underground party there.
"There are a lot of companies who are really trying very hard to get back and understand that ultimately, the success of the businesses is going to rely on having, you know, people come together in common physical space," says Bay Area Council President and CEO Jim Wunderman, speaking to ABC 7. But, he says, COVID continues to be "a very complex health issue," and no company wants to have an outbreak of a new variant on their hands, among their staff, because they had to come into the office.
This likely won't be the last variant though, and all businesses need to face the fact that a hybrid model of working from home and coming in a few days a week is likely here to stay.
"We have to get out from that shell of 2019 and before," says San Jose State professor and tech expert Ahmed Banafa, speaking to ABC 7. "And think about it, it's real. We have to mix the virtual and the physical world together."
Photo: Kai Wenzel