Return to Office

If Not Now, Then When?

Reopening postponed, but 2022 might still bring our workplaces back.

The New York Times recently published a piece about companies who continue to postpone their return to office because of emerging COVID-19 variants. DocuSign, one of the companies the Times spotlights, had already postponed the reopening of their office 3 times when they pushed the date out once again, this time to January 11, 2022. All indicators seemed to suggest offices really would be able to reopen the first quarter of 2022. Then along came Omicron.

As Omicron surged, DocuSign released a statement saying that it had once again placed its plans to reopen on hold. This time the company didn’t even bother to provide a future date, saying only that it will “reassess our plans as 2022 unfolds.”

Other major companies have made changes to their reopening plans as well. Tech giant Google, who previously said their offices would reopen on January 11, has postponed their reopening too. Ford Motor Company has pushed their reopening back to March. Meta, formerly known as Facebook, still plans to reopen its headquarters at the end of January, but employees will not be required to return until June. Ridesharing company Lyft won’t require its employees to return at all in 2022, but it will still reopen as planned in February.

Despite these postponements, there are some strong indicators that office doors may still open to welcome employees back in 2022. We outline what these indicators are below.

  1. Omicron is possibly less severe than previous variants. Preliminary research suggests that Omicron, while more contagious, causes milder infections, potentially posing less of a concern to employers when they consider reopening their offices.

  2. A majority of people have been vaccinated or already have immunity to COVID. Cushman &Wakefield, one of the world’s biggest commercial real estate companies, released a report in September projecting that, by February 2022, 70% of the world’s population would be either vaccinated or have immunity from previous coronavirus infection. However, it is important to note that this report begins with the assumption that the Delta strain represents the final wave of the pandemic, something the arrival of Omicron proved inaccurate.

  3. New treatments for COVID are becoming available. Last month the FDA authorized Pfizer’s new Covid treatment pill, the first oral antiviral drug cleared since the pandemic began.

  4. Companies have already found creative ways to bring employees back to their offices safely. In 2021, companies came up with creative ways to bring employees back to the office safely. Some companies issued vaccine mandates, requiring all employees returning to the office to be vaccinated before entering. Seating capacity limits, socially distanced seating, mask mandates within office common areas and health screenings for employees prior to office entry are other popular strategies.

  5. Experts think COVID could become endemic in 2022. Even Bill Gates thinks the virus will likely become endemic in 2022. Many epidemiologists agree. When a disease becomes endemic, it means that it is ever-present, albeit at controlled, predictable levels (the common cold and the flu are both examples of endemic illnesses). When endemicity is reached, COVID will pose a less severe threat to most of the population.

  6. If not now, then when? Pandemic fatigue is real. People are tired of the restrictions and uncertainty they have been dealing with since the pandemic began in 2020. With COVID poised to become endemic, employers may decide to reopen offices rather than continue to wait out an end to COVID that is unlikely to ever come.

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