Omicron could question companies’ plans to resume their functions

December 3 (Reuters) – Company executives are starting to consider different models of permanent work for their employees as the coronavirus pandemic and the spread of the Omicron variant destabilize their latest plans to return to the office.

With Omicron so new, companies are struggling to understand how the variant might affect their operations and profits. Most have taken a wait-and-see stance as they assess how quickly the variant can spread and its potential harmfulness, although Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O) is indefinitely delaying its plan to return to the office worldwide. Read more

Jin Montesano, director of human resources at luxury toilet maker Lixil Corp (5938.T), told the Reuters Next conference this week that the company has moved away from Japan’s rigid work structure by cutting hours basic work and morning meetings, and rethinking what the office should be like. Read more

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“This is no longer the place to work… wherever you work, this is where you work,” Montesano said during a panel discussion on the future of work. “What we want to do is reimagine the office.”

Countries moved quickly this week to impose stricter bans or testing rules on travel after the Omicron variant was discovered in southern Africa.

“We could almost compare it to a war situation,” Philip Morris (PM.N) CEO Jacek Olczak told Reuters at the conference. “Everyone claims things are getting normal, but it’s not normal. We’ve all changed.”

Dr Neal Mills, chief medical officer at benefits consulting firm Aon Plc (AON.N), said his team had been meeting with clients all week about possible new options.

“They recognize that they are going to have to revisit a lot of the decisions they have made. If this changes the effectiveness of treatments, what level of risk is the organization willing to tolerate in bringing employees back in January? He told Reuters.

The World Health Organization has said as more countries are reporting cases, the new variant of COVID-19 carries a “very high” global risk of outbreaks. Scientists said it could take weeks to understand its severity, although early indications showed most cases were mild. Read more

The prospect of a fast-spreading variant has raised fears of a return to the kind of restrictions that shut down many industries in 2020.

“At this point, companies have created deadlines for people to come back to the office, then delayed them so many times that what I hear is they are looking not to commit until they are There’s no certainty, ”said Jeff Levin-Scherz, managing director of employee benefits consulting firm Willis Towers Watson Plc (WTY.F).

More than half of American employers (57%) surveyed by Willis Towers Watson require or plan to require vaccinations, in a survey released Tuesday but which was carried out before Omicron’s discovery.

What’s more, the survey found that just over a third of employees work remotely – and that figure is expected to drop to 27% in the first quarter of 2022.

Wall Street banks, for example, don’t immediately change their return-to-work plans, but like many industries, are watching the situation closely. Global airlines are bracing for the possibility that they will be forced to juggle schedules. Read more

“We are in what I would call bottom up mode, but… there could be various concerns at any time, and we need to adjust our schedules accordingly,” said Emirates Airline (EMIRA.UL) President Tim Clark during the press conference. Reuters Conference. Read more

Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) CEO James Quincey said his company has learned throughout the pandemic.

“Each successive wave of foreclosures has had less of an impact on our business,” he said this week at the Redburn CEO conference. “This adaptability and flexibility … makes us feel better.”


Meanwhile, companies operating in the United States are caught between the administration of President Joe Biden, which pushed companies to impose vaccinations, and the courts.

On Tuesday, two courts blocked the administration from enforcing warrants requiring millions of American workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Read more

Biden unveiled a regulation in September to increase the vaccination rate of adults in the United States to fight the pandemic, which has killed more than 750,000 Americans and weighed on the economy.

The most sweeping regulation, a vaccine or workplace testing mandate for companies with 100 or more employees, was temporarily blocked by a federal appeals court in early November. Read more

The ordinances were seen as a blanket for companies to demand that workers get vaccinated, and court rulings leave them in limbo as they push to get workers back to their workplaces.

Of course, for some companies, the “office” is still preferred.

“Almost two-thirds of my customers are men who buy jewelry for their girlfriends, wives, grandmothers or children. And we know that men who buy jewelry need help,” said Alexander Lacik, CEO of jewelry maker Pandora (PNDORA.CO). Reuters Conference. Read more

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Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit, additional reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Copenhagen, Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai, Siddarth Cavale in Bengaluru, Anna Driver in New York and Sakura Murakami and Belen Carreno in Tokyo Editing by Matthew Lewis

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.