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Omicron Throws Office Return Plans Into Reverse

New Yorkers wait for hours for a Covid-19 test on Dec. 17, 2021, as omicron slams the city.

Companies making formal in-person working arrangements are walking them back as rising Covid-19 case numbers upend plans across the country.

The U.S. is now averaging 118,717 new virus cases each day — 40% higher than a month ago, CNN reports, citing Johns Hopkins University data. In New York City, cases are at their highest level since last winter, and health officials are bracing for long-overworked hospital staffers to be overwhelmed by the increase in patients.

Now, companies that had been pushing forward with a return to the office are pumping the brakes. Goldman Sachs, one of the earliest companies to mandate workers return to the office during the pandemic, has told teams to cancel any holidays parties, The New York Times reports. Citadel and Blackstone have brought back policies that allow all staffers to work remotely in light of the coronavirus's spread. 

Investment bank Jefferies Financial Group has told its more than 4,000 workers to work remotely and Morgan Stanley — whose CEO, James Gorman, earlier this year said he would be "disappointed" if most workers weren't back at the office — has given employees more flexibility to work from home. Citigroup, too, gave its staff in New York and New Jersey the option to work from home through the holidays.

Apple told employees this week that the company has now moved its return to work plans “to a date yet to be determined." Just a few weeks earlier, the company had told workers they should start returning in February.

“Despite all best efforts, Covid is really forcing a rollback of plans,” Kathryn Wylde, the head of the Partnership for New York City, told the Times. The Partnership had been predicting that 47% of finance workers would be back in their offices in the city every day, up from 27% in October.

“The contagion factor with Omicron has meant that people are going to hunker down again," she said.

It will come as a blow to office owners and managers, many of whom had predicted a steady return next year of workers to their desks. Related Cos. CEO Jeff Blau told CNBC this week that vaccinated workers will be coming back in force starting Jan. 1 — and a survey found three-quarters of workers expected to return as well. But Gorman said on CNBC this week that his previous predictions about workers’ return have not materialized.

“I thought we would have been out of it past Labor Day,” Gorman said. “And we’re not.”