Omicron overturns Wall Street plans in Silicon Valley

Just as it seemed like American businesses were on the path to normalcy, a new wave of Covid-related uncertainty is shaking business plans from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.

Manhattan holidays are canceled and banks grapple with new epidemics as the omicron variant spreads. Citigroup Inc. said employees in the New York metro area can work from home during the holidays, with hedge fund firm Citadel issuing similar guidelines. JPMorgan Chase & Co. moved its large healthcare conference to San Francisco online after large biotech companies withdrew from the event.

Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have postponed their return to office dates indefinitely.

The latest resurgence of the virus puts bosses in dire straits for employee safety and ever-changing plans for office work, business travel and social gatherings after nearly two years of confusion with Covid. At the same time, many Americans have largely resumed their normal activities in their personal lives, from dining out to attending big events, creating a mismatch between what happens at work and at home.

“It’s just like Groundhog Day,” said John Ho, co-chair of OSHA and workplace safety practice at law firm Cozen O’Connor. “We had clients who were planning to bring people back after New Years – there are some who have already decided to delay given the omicron and also the overall increase in Covid numbers.”

For an example of the chaotic situation, look no further than Wall Street, where bank executives have been eager to restock office towers with workers. But New York is now grappling with an increase in cases of the virus, with models from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that the omicron variant could account for 13% of Covid-19 infections in the region and in New Jersey. Last week, Jefferies Financial Group Inc. asked bankers to resume remote work after the company saw an increase in the number of cases after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Morgan Stanley has also had recent outbreaks in its New York City offices, according to people familiar with the matter. The bank, where workers are typically seated in an open-plan office format, has demanded that employees be vaccinated but does not have a mask warrant. A company spokesperson declined to comment.

CEO James Gorman made waves this summer when he berated his staff and argued that if they can eat out, then they could make their way to the office. It reflected a growing reality for many senior Wall Street officials that they were ready to get back to normal and were tired of resistance from workers.

Now, a few months later, Gorman sings a different tune. “I was wrong about that,” he said in an interview with CNBC this week. “Everyone just keeps finding their way and you get the omicron variant. Who knows, we’ll have pi, we’ll have theta and epsilon, and we’ll end up running out of letters of the alphabet. This continues to be a problem.”

One of the possible reasons Gorman got it wrong: Revolutionary infections among vaccines were more common than expected during the recent wave of delta variants, meaning the companies that mandated vaccines weren’t so protected than they thought.

At Barclays Plc, some teams have put aside their holiday season and the company has seen a slight increase in the number of cases in its New York offices. Some of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s holiday gatherings have been postponed, while cases have surfaced at various offices in the Northeast. Still, many employees are still in the office: CEO David Solomon posted a photo to Instagram on Wednesday that showed the lobby of the bank’s Manhattan headquarters, where vaccines are mandatory, filled with masked employees attending a holiday market. .

The disruption comes just as Americans gear up for Christmas trips and family reunions, and there is no indication those plans have changed. Southwest Airlines Co. said it expects planes to be generally full over the next vacation, and leisure bookings for December trips are above expectations.

“The airline has not seen any noticeable impact on travel demand related to the omicron variant,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday.

Even though people pack restaurants, bars and football stadiums in their spare time, employers have an obligation to do the right thing on behalf of their workers, said William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at the University. Vanderbilt. A handful of medical groups Schaffner participates in are rethinking their stance on in-person gatherings in the New Year.

“If you had asked us two months ago as cases were coming across the country, people would start to think, ‘Oh, well, in the first quarter of 2022, we can have a face-to-face meeting. Schaffner said. “Then the cases plateaued, started to rise again, even in some highly vaccinated states. Then omicron hit and all of those things made many groups that I’m affiliated with again cautious.”

The effects of the last wave are widely felt. Cornell and Princeton universities have moved the finals online, infections are spreading in the National Football League and Apple has temporarily closed three retail stores after outbreaks in the United States and Canada. The cases extend to C suite, Verizon Communications Inc. CEO Hans Vestberg revealing on Wednesday that he had recently tested positive for the virus and was in home quarantine with mild symptoms.

All of this adds to the confusion for executives and corporate directors trying to determine the best next steps, said Harry Kraemer, former CEO of the healthcare industry who now teaches at the Kellogg School of Management. Northwestern University.

“Most CEOs say there is a happy medium in everything, but there are a million different dimensions to it,” said Kraemer, who was scheduled to attend the JPMorgan healthcare conference that has now passed. to virtual. “There is a struggle to find the right balance.”

In Silicon Valley, the upheaval is delaying an already slow return to normal for tech giants, many of whom have embraced flexibility constantly as they compete for workers in demand. Apple moved its February 1 return to office date to a “yet to be determined” time on Wednesday, following Google and Uber Technologies Inc. in waiving official deadlines.

The haphazard approach during the pandemic could make it harder for employers to eventually get workers back to the office when companies are truly ready. Google has set and reset return dates so many times that employees have stopped taking them seriously. “Every date has become kind of a joke,” Jeffrey Yaskin, technical lead for the Google Chrome Web Platform team, told Fortune.

But taking a phased approach, rather than setting a date for everyone’s return, may be the best policy, said Sandy Nelson, infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Scientists don’t yet know exactly how transmissible omicron is, the severity of the disease it produces, or how well existing vaccines and therapies resist it, she said. Experts are concerned about mutations in the variant and that people are largely moving indoors to celebrate the holidays as cases are already on the rise.

“There are times when the risks are too high or unknown when it is not justified to take those risks,” Nelson said.

(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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