It's looking more and more like 2022 could begin and end the same way for many workers – at home.
As workers return to work after the holiday, many are choosing or being told to work from home throughout the omicron surge.
Experts say what's happening right now could mean that more and more companies embrace work from home for good.
“What omicron has shown people is that this isn’t going away anytime soon,” said Spencer O'Leary, CEO of ActiveOps North America, which is based in Las Colinas.
His company has been helping businesses operate work-from-home setups and helping managers with software to manage remote workers.
“Most businesses that we’ve worked with over the last two years have realized that productivity as an output measure has been OK. In fact, for some businesses, it has improved. Less distraction at home so employees can focus on the day job and get the work done,” he said. “But the things that have really suffered are things like employee well-being, workplace stress, creativity and idea generation. They have decreased over the pandemic and are now decreasing at a dramatic rate.”
Up until now, a lot of companies had big plans for 2022 with efforts to roll out return-to-the-office procedures to bring back normalcy to workers, especially with vaccines widely available.
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But new variants like delta and omicron, which have mutated enough to infect vaccinated people, have thrown a wrench in those plans.
Large tech companies like Google and Apple have postponed return to office dates for several months, at least. Lyft has even said its employees won't have to come back to the office at all this year.
Major U.S. banks and financial firms like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are having workers stay at home for the next two weeks to a month.
“Having a rigid policy of either working from home or working from the office – trying to just settle on one of those options isn’t something that’s going to work for most businesses,” said O’Leary. “Because whatever we decide is the right working model for January of this year will probably change by February and will probably change again by March. And we’re going into this cycle now of an evolving workplace."
There are two side to the coin. CNBC recently spoke to an author who writes that while the shift to remote work has been considered a win for many workers, the reality is a bit more complex.
But for workers who have been working well from home for nearly two years now, it will be difficult for businesses to suddenly tell them that it no longer works.
That’s why O’Leary said a "hybrid" model of working has become extremely popular, where employees work from home part of the week and come to the office on the other days.
But that format was intended to be temporary, with the eventual goal of heading back to the office for good.
“I think what omicron has done is really shown that hybrid is a model that’s going to need to stay. It was maybe initially a temporary measure but now it definitely needs to stay,” O’Leary said.
Now, he said more and more businesses are making hybrid schedules permanent.
Such a model has especially become popular in the DFW area, with workers embracing WFH on Mondays and Fridays, then coming to the office Tuesday through Thursday. Some businesses have even established a staggered, A/B schedule approach since mid-2020.
O’Leary adds that agility and being able to adapt to any situation will be key for businesses in 2022.
“So maybe from tomorrow for the rest of this month, most businesses are nearly fully work-from-home. We might adopt a back-to-office for February, then a new omicron comes up again in March and we have to go back to this again,” he said. “It seems the only thing that feels certain is that constant change is going to be rife within the working world."
In the meantime, ActiveOps has online resources for small and large businesses to learn more about managing remote employees, working from home, and launching an hybrid workplace.