Canceled holiday parties, booster-shot recommendations and advisories to work from home are the new normal for Wall Street companies reacting to the fast-spreading Omicron COVID-19 variant ripping through New York and other financial centers.
With the fourth wave of the pandemic now in full force, financial firms are once again grappling with when they can realistically get back to business-as-usual, and how to communicate to staff and retain workers amid the uncertainty.
“There is a great deal of squishiness around when the return to office is going to occur. They have had to reverse course so many times to the public, themselves and to staff,” said Neal Mills, chief medical officer for the professional services firm Aon, who advises companies on return-to-work plans.
A number of Wall Street banks and investment firms, including Bank of America, Citigroup and Jefferies Financial Group have reversed their push to get staff back to the office as Omicron has spread across the Northeast.
New York City is being hit hard, with cases rising 60% last week. Breakthrough infections are also rising among the 61% of the country’s fully vaccinated population.
Companies acknowledge that the safeguards they had been relying on to get workers back to the office, such as vaccinations, may not protect staff, Mills said.
Employers are targeting February as the likely return-to-office date, but with the situation changing fast “they are reluctant to do any communications”, he said.
One financial firm executive said their return-to-office target date was largely “arbitrary” but that the company did not want to leave workers in the dark.
“People do a horrible job of communicating,” said Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School who advises companies on their back-to-office plans. Companies feel they cannot update staff until they have more information, he said.
The financial industry has been among the most aggressive in getting back to business-as-usual. Among banks, Goldman Sachs JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley led the charge to get workers back to offices after vaccines were rolled out.