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The Omicron dilemma: Google goes first on delaying office work

Hurrah, employees can continue to work from home and take calls in pyjamas

Googlers can continue working from home and will no longer be required to return to campuses on 10 January 2022 as previously expected.

The decision marks another delay in getting more employees back to their desks. For Big Tech companies, setting a firm return date during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a nightmare. All attempts were pushed back so far due to rising numbers of cases or new variants of the respiratory disease spreading around the world, such as the new Omicron strain.

Google's VP of global security, Chris Rackow, broke the news to staff in a company-wide email, first reported by CNBC. He said Google would wait until the New Year to figure out when campuses in the US can safely reopen for a mandatory return.

Over 90 per cent of its offices are currently open already for workers to go in if they choose to. A spokesperson from Google confirmed the announcement and told The Register that nearly 40 per cent of its staff have visited offices over the last few weeks.

Rackow encouraged people to go in "where conditions allow, to reconnect with colleagues in person and start regaining the muscle memory of being in the office more regularly," according to his email.

When Googlers have to return to their desks, they probably won't be coming back to the usual 9-to-5, Monday to Friday lifestyle as before. They'll be allowed to work from home a couple days a week.

"The company will give all full-time employees who need it a 30-day period to transition to the hybrid schedule. We will be re-learning our working rhythms together in 2022, which brings new opportunities and new challenges as we experiment with more flexible ways of working," Rackow added.

In July this year, CEO Sundar Pichai told staff the company expects them to be fully vaccinated when the official return to work kicked in. That vaccine mandate was announced three months before the company previously expected employees to return to the office on 18 October 2021. That date was later delayed to 10 January 2022, which has now been pushed back yet again.

Other Big Tech companies, such as Apple, Amazon, and Meta (formerly known as Facebook) also scheduled return-to-office dates some time in January next year.

They may yet change their minds over the next few weeks as Omicron continues to spread around the globe. The first case of the new variant detected in the US was from a patient in San Francisco, local news reported. ®

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