Returning to office soon? Not so fast -- Experts say omicron likely to change back-to-work plans

Google has already confirmed it is now waiting until the new year to assess when its offices are ready for the transition back.

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Friday, December 3, 2021
Omicron likely to push back return-to-office dates, experts say
Stick with office reopening plans or push back timelines again? Google has already committed to the latter due to concerns over the omicron variant.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Stick with office reopening plans or push back timelines again? It's a dilemma many companies are continuing to face, after multiple delays due to COVID-19 mutations. Of course, the most recent being the omicron variant.

"I think almost anything that stimulates concern causes further delay," Bay Area Council President and CEO Jim Wunderman told ABC7 News. "Because companies don't want to be in the position of putting their employees at risk."

Wunderman said it's hard to imagine the omicron variant won't impact return-to-office goals the way delta did.

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On Thursday, Google confirmed it is now waiting until the new year to assess when office locations are ready for the transition back.

January 10th had long-been the earliest date Google would've ended its voluntary work-from-home period and kicked off a new hybrid work week.

"This is going to trickle down to you know, most of the companies," San Jose State University professor and tech expert Ahmed Banafa said. "The problem with it is we are dealing with the unknown. We have no idea what will be the next variant."

Banafa said the pandemic has proven many in the tech world can do their jobs just fine from home.

"We have to get out from that shell of 2019 and before," he shared. "And think about it, it's real. We have to mix the virtual and the physical world together."

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Scientists are rushing to learn more about the new Omicron COVID-19 variant, which they say has 50 mutations compared to Delta's 19.

However, Wunderman added the delays also mean typically busy downtown areas and other parts of the economy continue hurting.

"The areas of the economy that have been the most hard hit, continue to be hard hit," he said. "Until we can actually get the pandemic in the rearview mirror. So, that's what we want to see. But we also have to be realistic, that it's a very complex health issue."

Google told ABC7 News it has opened more than 90-percent of its U.S. offices. Adding, in recent weeks, nearly 40-percent of U.S. Googlers came into the office.

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"There are a lot of companies who are really trying very hard to get back and understand that ultimately, the success of the businesses is going to rely on having, you know, people come together in common physical space," Wunderman said.

He anticipates 2022 will be a year of strong recovery.

Banafa shared, "We will get to normal, but we are not an island. We're not isolated from the rest of the nation or the rest of the world. Even if we have everybody vaccinated here, you still have some people who can come up with another variant. And then here we go."

ABC7 News reached out to several tech companies about their return-to-office plans including Apple, Salesforce and others.

Meta, formerly Facebook, was the only to respond. The company said its current return to office plans for January 2022 remain.