The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the look of offices across New York City and other major metro areas, forcing an unprecedented reliance on teleworking, which by many accounts has proven cheaper for employers and more convenient for those they hire .
And the advent of omicron may have changed that permanently.
That seems to be true at least when it comes to Manhattan, according to a survey of major employers released Tuesday by The Partnership for New York City.
Three-quarters of the major employers surveyed between January 10, around omicron’s highest increase, and January 18, as this increase continues to slow, said they delayed their planned return to the office due to the impact of the variant, while less than two-thirds felt confident that at least half of their employees would be in office by the end of March.
More than one-fifth of respondents (22%) said they could not even estimate when their employee participation in the office would reach this threshold, The Partnership survey found. Two percent said they do not expect it to happen before 2023 at the earliest, while about 38 percent expect to hit that marker at some point before March 31st.
Among the direct protocol effects of omicron as indicated by the study:
- 34% of companies reinstated mesh mandates
- 22% of companies closed their offices to unnecessary employees
- 10% suspended personal meetings
- 7% suspended business travel
- 5% stopped allowing guests in the office
Slightly more than one in 10 large employers surveyed (12%) require all employees to be vaccinated and receive a booster shot by a certain date, according to The Partnership, but there did not appear to be data on non-booster vaccination requirements the shot.
Under New York City’s emergency order, all private and municipal employers, regardless of size, must ensure that all employees are fully vaccinated or receive a date for the purpose of when partially immunized workers will complete their series. This order does not include boosters at this time, and Mayor Eric Adams did not indicate that he planned to add it soon, as he said earlier this month that he would keep it in place.
Meanwhile, 25% of companies surveyed require regular testing for employees returning to the office in person, while 7% require proof of negative COVID testing for guests regardless of vaccination status. Six percent said they only require proof of a negative test for unvaccinated guests.
The Partnership for New York, which represents the city’s business leaders and largest employers, only asked questions of large companies in Manhattan for the purpose of this study.
Most have offices in Midtown West (37%), Midtown East (34%) or Financial District (16%). More than a third of respondents (36%) are in finance, followed by real estate (16%), law (11%), technology (5%), consulting (5%) and media (5%).