Just when we thought we were out, it pulls us back in

The coronavirus Delta variant is making everyone feel like it is déjà vu all over again in terms of hybrid working and a return to the office.

Just when we thought we were out, it pulls us back in

After 16 months of WFH lockdown induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, business owners had been constructing carefully laid plans for a return to hybrid office working after Labor Day.

Health and safety and the wellbeing of staffers was top of mind and a complex matrix of issues had to be taken into consideration. Some companies, especially in the tech sector and in Silicon Valley, have gone remote for the foreseeable future. But most enterprises, and especially marketing services agencies, were prepping for a return to whatever the new normal is.

For a few weeks in June and July, it felt as though things were getting back to normal in terms of occasional visits to the physical workplace, meeting up with clients and contacts, and planning for some form of in-person events.

But in the last 10 days the precipitous rise in infection rates driven by the Delta variant of the virus, and concerns about further mutations of that, have prompted swift action by the authorities to reinstate anti-COVID measures.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday it will require proof of COVID-19 vaccinations at restaurants, gyms and other businesses from September 13. Other major cities such as Los Angeles are considering similar measures.

The New York International Auto Show planned for August 20-29 has been canceled because of the spread of the Delta variant. Developments such as this are prompting rethinks from the marketing sector.

My colleague Alison Weissbrot yesterday reported that French holding company Publicis is delaying its planned return to the office because of Delta. It reopened its U.S. offices for staffers in July on a voluntary basis and planned to instigate hybrid working after Labor Day. But that policy was updated in a memo to staff on Wednesday delaying decisions about a mandatory return to the office until Q4.

I understand WPP, which announced its Q2 financials today, will delay its planned return to the office by a month. The holding company also noted in its results statement that it will be permanently reducing air travel by around one-third compared to 2019 levels.

Several big corporations, including US Bank, ViacomCBS, BlackRock and Wells Fargo have put back their return to the office until sometime in the fourth quarter; Lyft has delayed it until February. Amazon isn't going back until 2022.

Additionally, many enterprises, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft, are insisting on employees being vaccinated if and when they do return to physical working. Others are mandating a moratorium on travel and external or in-person events for the rest of this year.

It’s fair to say everyone is sick and tired of the continuing impact of COVID-19 on our world. Purely anecdotally, in recent weeks I have noticed a proportion of New York subway travelers eschewing their masks after pretty much 100% adherence through the course of the pandemic, including among police officers patrolling stations.

But this week was a definite "Oh, shit" moment in many company meetings hastily convened to discuss latest developments. In reality there is little alternative but to continue being prudent and cautious and plan B is on the minds of every company, agency and organization.

To paraphrase Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

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