January is shaping up as the new September for many major U.S. companies to summon workers back to long-deserted offices as the COVID-19 Delta variant trips up employers eager to normalize their operations.
Lyft, which had been planning to bring workers back to its San Francisco headquarters next month, is now putting off their return “until we’re in the clear,” citing the uncertainty caused by the latest coronavirus wave. The ridesharing company does not expect its nearly 5,000 corporate workers to return to their offices until February 2, 2022, at the earliest.
“We anticipate the COVID situation will remain fluid for the upcoming months, making it difficult for us to land a clear return date without a possibility of moving it again,” Lyft CEO and cofounder Logan Green said in a message to employees last week.
The company is extending the work-from-home period by six months “to provide a buffer of several weeks after the winter holiday for team members to settle into their assigned offices,” according to Green.
Online food delivery platform DoorDash is also committing to remote work for the remainder of the calendar year. After that, the company will transition its nearly 6,000 corporate employees to hybrid work beginning in January 2022, with some days spent each week in its San Francisco headquarters and other days spent working remotely.
“We intentionally chose 2022 for our return-to-work plan in order to meet employees where they are,” a spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch.
Circling distant calendar dates
Tech industry leaders including iPhone maker Apple and search engine Google have also already pushed back their deadlines for workers to return to offices, including the company’s massive headquarters complex in Cupertino, California. Originally set for after Labor Day in September, Apple recently moved its return date back at least one month, with CEO Tim Cook acknowledging that “the road to recovery will be a winding one,” on a conference call last week.
Also last week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced an extension of its voluntary work-from-home policy through October 18. In the announcement, Pichai said “many Googlers are seeing spikes in their communities caused by the Delta variant and are concerned about retuning to the office.” The company employs some 135,000 people, with headquarters in Mountain View, California, and satellite offices employing thousands in New York City and other major business hubs.
Austin, Texas-based employment website Indeed is circling January 3, 2022, on its corporate calendar for the company’s 11,000 employees to show their faces in the office again. Citing concerns over new COVID-19 variants, Indeed last week said it would delay its move to a hybrid way of working from September 7 to the start of next year.
“Up until yesterday, we were going to go into new ways of working — with employees electing whether they want to be in office, hybrid or remote, based on their job,” Paul Wolfe, Indeed’s senior vice president of human resources, recently told CBS MoneyWatch after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that Americans, even those who are fully vaccinated, start wearing masks indoors again.
“This morning we announced to employees we are moving into this new way of working starting in January, mainly because we’ve got these new variants that are now the dominant strains in the U.S. and are much more contagious than the previous variants,” Wolfe said.
Planning for the future
San Mateo, California-based Roblox, the maker of a global online game platform, is also pushing its office return date for its more than 1,000 employees from mid-September to the new year and is now targeting January 4, 2022, to resume in-person work.
DocuSign, a San Francisco-headquartered tech company that allows businesses to manage electronic agreements, also remains unsure of when employees might come back.
“Like most companies since March of 2020, we continue to put out dates by which we thought our office would open,” said DocuSign’s chief people officer Joan Burke. She said the company is currently targeting October 4 as a reopening date, noting that “it’s far enough out in future that it’s something we could plan for.”
Even so, DocuSign says it will again delay reopening its offices if the virus calls for it. “If we decide to delay the October 4 opening, I’m quite sure we’d put a date out there,” Burke said.
A moving target
Security expert Allison Wood, a director at global risk consultancy Control Risks, said employers must view their policies around the return to work as evolving in tandem with the virus. Wood has been closely monitoring epidemiological indicators that suggest a delay in returning is in order.
“Companies are re-examining what measures are in place and when it makes sense to expect people to return to the office. It has to do with the Delta variant and changes in guidance and recommendations from the CDC and other state and public health bodies. It’s cause for companies to sit back and reevaluate their decisions and policies that are in place,” Wood said.
Her clients, which include technology and manufacturing firms, are rethinking their expectations for workers returning to the office, as well as risk-mitigation measures like masking up, practicing social distancing and even mandating vaccines.
“The one thing that remains consistent about the pandemic is that it’s evolving and changing so we’re reminding our clients that they must retain a certain level of flexibility and agility in how they make decisions. This is a pretty clear example of that,” she said, citing the rise of the Delta variant.
At the same time, employees are reevaluating their plans given the incidence of breakthrough infections in individuals who are already vaccinated.
“I think we all thought six months ago that September was going to look good, but ‘Miss Delta’ was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t think so. You better check yourself,'” said Danielle Ompad, a professor of epidemiology at New York University.
To that end, Overstock, the online furniture retailer based in Midvale, Utah, close to Salt Lake City, has announced it won’t bring workers back to the office any earlier than January 2022. Overstock had initially targeted Memorial Day in May as a return date for the company’s more than 1,500 employees in customer service, marketing, merchandising, financial and technology roles.
“Our initial plan was to come back then, but in March we decided we would wait until next year. We aren’t gong to come back any earlier than January 2022,” CEO Jonathan Johnson told CBS MoneyWatch.
“We know what working from home looks like and we know what working from the office looks like, but what’s in between, we don’t know. I’d like to learn from others as they come back, and we’ll do what they do well and we won’t do what they make mistakes on,” Johnson added.