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Google Scraps Return to Office Plans Amid Spread of Omicron

Image for article titled Google Scraps Return to Office Plans, but Encourages Staff to Come In to ‘Regain Muscle Memory’

Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP (Getty Images)

Google has delayed its return to office mandate for workers in the U.S. again as concerns over the new coronavirus omicron variant raise alarm worldwide and prompt new restrictions.

In an email to full-time staffers sent on Thursday, obtained by CNBC, the tech company said it would scrap its planned Jan. 10 mandate and wait until 2022 to determine when its U.S. workers could safely return to the office in the long-term. The email to U.S. workers did not mention the omicron variant. However, Google leadership in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa explicitly pointed to “the uncertainty around COVID-19 and the new travel restrictions,” as being the reason why next month’s return was delayed for employees in those countries, according to Insider.

Google had previously announced that employees would be required to return to the office three days a week on Jan. 10 and be fully vaccinated to do so. In recent weeks, Google has opened 90% of its offices in the U.S. Close to 40% of its employees have come in physically to work, the company said.

Although no clear timeline has been set yet, Chris Rackow, Google’s vice president of global security, reiterated in the email that the company will allow specific locations to determine when to bring their employees back to the office. The policy had previously been disclosed by CEO Sundar Pichai, who added that teams would be given a 30-day “heads-up” before they’re expected to go in.

Locations will be assisted by Google’s local incident response teams, which will help assess each office’s “risk level.”

Nonetheless, Rackow said that Google encourages employees to come into the office “where conditions allow, to reconnect with colleagues in person and start regaining the muscle memory of being in the office more regularly.”

“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 wrote.

A Google spokesperson told CNBC that the delay was in line with the plan previously set by the company, which considered Jan. 10 the earliest possible return date. At this point, though, big tech’s return to office dates are as uncertain as the end of the pandemic. It remains to be seen whether other companies, such as Apple, which is set to start a hybrid work pilot on Feb. 1, Facebook, and Amazon will push back their plans as well.

“We’ll continue to determine when offices reopen and start the hybrid work week based on local conditions, which are dynamic and vary greatly across locations,” the Google spokesperson said.

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