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Companies' plans to return to office may be impacted by Omicron

As Omicron is so new, businesses are trying to figure out how it will effect their operations and earnings

Companies plans to return to office may be impacted by Omicron

As the coronavirus pandemic and the development of the Omicron strain disrupt their current return-to-office plans, company chiefs are beginning to contemplate different permanent work arrangements for their employees.

Because Omicron is so new, businesses are trying to figure out how it will effect their operations and earnings. Most have taken a wait-and-see approach as they assess how quickly the variation may spread and its potential for harm, while Alphabet Inc's Google has decided to postpone its global return-to-office plan indefinitely.

Jin Montesano, the chief people officer of luxury toilet maker Lixil Corp, said at the Reuters Next conference this week that the company has diverged from Japan's rigid work structure by eliminating core working hours and morning meetings and redefining what an office should be.

"It`s no longer the place to work ... wherever you get work done is where you work," said Montesano during a panel discussion on the Future of Work. "What we want to do is reimagine the office."

Following the discovery of the Omicron type in southern Africa this week, countries moved quickly to implement travel bans or stricter testing requirements.

"We almost could compare it to a war situation," Philip Morris CEO Jacek Olczak said to Reuters at the conference. "Everyone pretends that things are getting normal, but it is not normal. We have all changed."

Aon Plc's chief medical officer, Dr. Neal Mills, said his staff has been meeting with clients all week to discuss possible new solutions.

"They are recognizing that they are going to need to revisit many of the decisions they`ve made. If this changes how effective treatments are, what is the level of risk the organization is willing to tolerate in bringing employees back in January?" he told Reuters.

As more countries report instances, the World Health Organization says the new COVID-19 form poses a "very high" global risk of outbreaks. Scientists have indicated that determining the severity of the outbreak could take weeks, however early signs suggest that the majority of cases are minor.

The possibility of a fast-spreading version has sparked fears of a repeat of the restrictions that forced a slew of enterprises to close in 2020.

"Companies at this point have created time lines for people to come back to the office and then delayed them so many times that what I`m hearing is they are looking to not commit until there`s certainty," said Jeff Levin-Scherz, a managing director with benefits consulting firm Willis Towers Watson Plc.

In a poll issued on Tuesday but done before Omicron's discovery, more than half of U.S. companies (57 percent) require or plan to require vaccines, according to Willis Towers Watson.

Furthermore, slightly more than a third of employees worked remotely, according to the poll, with that number predicted to shrink to 27% in the first quarter of 2022.

Wall Street banks, for example, are not revising their return-to-work plans right once, but they, like many other companies, are keeping a careful eye on the situation. Airlines throughout the world are ready for the potential of having to juggle schedules.

"We are in what I would call the uptick mode, but ... there could be various concerns coming up at any time, and we need to adjust our schedules accordingly," Emirates Airline President Tim Clark said at the Reuters conference.

James Quincey, the CEO of Coca-Cola, said his company has learned a lot throughout the pandemic.

"Each successive wave of lockdown had less of an impact on our business," he said this week at the Redburn CEO conference. "That adaptability and flexibility ... makes us feel better."

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