The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally altered the look of offices across New York City and other major metros, forcing an unprecedented reliance on remote work that by many accounts has proven less expensive for employers and more convenient for those they employ.
And the emergence of omicron may have changed it permanently.
That appears 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-fourths of major employers surveyed between Jan. 10, around omicron's peak surge, and Jan. 18, as that surge continues to recede, said they delayed their planned returns to the office because of the variant's impact, while less than two-thirds felt confident at least half their workers would be in the office by March's end.
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More than a fifth of those surveyed (22%) said they can't even estimate as to when their in-office employee attendance would reach that threshold, the study from The Partnership found. Two percent said they don't expect it to happen until 2023 at the earliest, while about 38% expect to hit that marker at some point before March 31.
Among omicron's direct protocol impacts as indicated by the survey:
- 34% of companies reinstated mask mandates
- 22% of companies closed the offices to non-essential employees
- 10% suspended in-person 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 be vaccinated and get a booster shot by a specified date, according to The Partnership, but there did not appear to be data on vaccination requirements outside the booster shot.
Under New York City's emergency order, all private and municipal employers regardless of size must ensure all employees are fully vaccinated or receive a date of intent for when partially immunized workers will complete their series. That order does not include boosters at this point, and Mayor Eric Adams didn't indicate he planned to add it soon when he said earlier this month he'd keep it in place.
Meanwhile, 25% of companies surveyed require regular testing for employees who return to the office in person, while 7% mandate proof of negative COVID tests for guests regardless of vaccination status. Six percent said they require proof of a negative test for unvaccinated guests only.
The Partnership for New York, which represents the city's business leaders and largest employers, asked questions only of big companies in Manhattan for the purposes of this study.
Most have offices in Midtown West (37%), Midtown East (34%) or the Financial District (16%). More than a third of respondents (36%) are in finance, followed by real estate (16%), law (11%), tech (5%), consulting (5%) and media (5%).