There is a growing groundswell of doomsaying about the Delta variant. At this point in the pandemic, it’s hard to know what and who to believe. The headlines scream about the percentage of increases in cases, but not much is written concerning the actual number of people. There is little discussion over the types of people getting the new strain, except for the unvaccinated.
The uncertainty may cause companies to think twice about their return-to-the-office plans. If this strain spreads, like it’s doing in other countries, workers would protest over being required to commute back to work. Corporations would be open to liabilities for pushing people to possibly endanger themselves.
On Fox Business News Monday afternoon, Wall Street chronicler Charlie Gasparino said he “talked to people at the big banks, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, they’re still reopening according to plan. Morgan Stanley reopening after Labor Day. Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, particularly in New York bringing people back in the office sooner.”
He added, “Other banks doing similar stuff, variations of the sort, but here is where this thing gets interesting, when you really push them on it, [senior executives at the firms say] they are closely monitoring the spread of the Delta variant.”
Gasparino added, “None of them, not one of them I spoke to today, would rule out a delay of the reopening or telling people to work from home more or, you know, play it by ear. This is fascinating. Wall Street is worried about the Delta variant. They are monitoring it closely.”
“This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a press briefing last Friday. She warned, “If you remain unvaccinated, you are at risk.” All the talk of the surge in Delta variant infections led to an almost 800-point plummet on Monday. Wall Street investors were concerned that the new variant could start another lockdown, which would undo all the gains in the economy, stock market, real estate and job growth.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a survey of 1,000 human resources professionals that revealed about half of U.S. organizations are concerned about the Delta variant and are encouraging employees to get a booster vaccination, if one becomes available. Los Angeles County health officials started recommending that residents start wearing masks indoors, even if they’re already vaccinated, due to the emergence of the Delta variant.
Whether this strain rapidly spreads or not, the possibility of this happening may push companies to rethink their hybrid and back-to-the-office plans. For instance, investment banks, such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanely and JPMorgan told their people to return to their offices. If there is a threat of a resurgence, how could the banks stick with their plans? New York City was the epicenter of Covid-19 during the early dark days of the outbreak—with a heartbreaking amount of cases and casualties. It doesn’t seem likely that workers will commute back to the City if there is a renewed health threat.
Workers have been resistant to returning to the office. They’ve pointed to childcare issues, public schools that may not reopen, mental health issues, the danger of commuting into a hotspot, walking crowded streets and being in close proximity to lots of other people.
It’s been proven that employees were highly productive working from home. Studies show that remote workers put in longer hours well into the night and weekends. The amazing rise in the stock prices is a great indicator of how well companies, like Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, fared during the outbreak when their workers were at home.
Tech professionals would be concerned too. Apple, the iPhone juggernaut company, invoked the wrath of workers by telling them they couldn’t remain working remotely. A number of employees signed a letter sent to CEO Tim Cook, imploring him to relent on the return-to-the-office edict. Cook did not yield. Apple will let employees work from home two days a week, with limited exceptions for remote-only options.
A new letter was written by Apple employees requesting that the company allow people to work from home full time. The petition calls for the company to permit employees to work from home full time for at least one year, with some restrictions and no promises of it being extended. Employees would have the option to work remotely from their home five days a week and could work from locations outside of the area they were hired from, and receive a cost-of-living compensation adjustment along with the move.
It’s evidently clear that a large majority of people don’t want to return to the office full time. Employers are coalescing around the hybrid model with two or three days in the office and the rest remote. The initial two or three days, people say, are an inducement to get them acclimated to going back to the office on a limited basis but will change over time. There is an underlying concern that businesses will push for four days or a full week in the near future.
Now with the potential for a new wave, it would almost be malpractice to make people go back to the office. Even if they pushed for it, employees would likely revolt and stay home.
Hopefully, the new wave is overhyped hyperbole meant to frighten the unvaccinated to get their shots, and won’t amount to another shutdown. Without certainty, compassionate leaders would have no choice other than keeping their people safe at home.