Omicron delaying return-to-work for many New York City businesses

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NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- From Wall Street, to Midtown, offices aren't just emptying out for the holidays, they're emptying because of fears of omicron.

"It's a huge impact," one worker said. "No one is coming into the office, people feel very uncertain about what's coming up."

At Bevel, a communications consultancy firm, the desks remain mostly empty.

"It's definitely affected the strategy," Bevel partner Morgan Borer said. "It's frustrating to know that the cases have been spiking, and it's not safe to be together in person right now."

So many businesses had plans to bring more employees back to the office in January, but those plans have been tabled.

"I think everyone, including the businesses, employers and employees, are feeling very discouraged and very anxious about this new COVID surge," said Kathryn Wylde, with Partnership for NYC.

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Wylde runs the nonprofit and has been working with the city's largest employers to establish best practices in bringing employees back while the pandemic continues. Omicron is a big setback.

"Our latest survey at the end of October said they expected that 50% of the office workers would be back in the office by the end of January," she said. "Now, all that is reversed."

Wylde says that delay will further cement the new hybrid approach that has been steadily taking hold.

In fact, 80% of employers they surveyed said they don't ever expect workers to come back five days a week.

"Many people have discovered they can be anywhere in the world and get their job in New York City done," Wylde said. "That does not help New York City. It's a problem."

When workers remain at home, they're spending less money in the city, in all sectors, from the subways to the theaters and restaurants.

"The brick and mortar economy is really suffering," Wylde said. "They don't have the choice of working remotely."

But for those who do have the choice, working from home will continue until there's greater confidence that coming to work is a safe bet.

"We're not requiring anyone to come in," Borer said. "We'd rather have them work from home, and in January, we can reassess and send out guidelines to the entire company."

The pandemic, once again, disrupted the back-to-work playbook.

"Any plans to return have been shelved, and the few people who ventured back have just stopped coming," one worker said.

If this surge is like what they saw in South Africa, it's a matter of weeks and then it subsides. Wylde says she'd expect a return to the office in April.

But if it runs through January into February, then that will be delayed longer.

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Joe Torres and Sandra Bookman co-host an Eyewitness News special presentation, 'Holiday Alert: Omicron Surge.'

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