Securian Financial and Xcel Energy are among the Minnesota companies that have again pushed back return-to-office dates as COVID-19 variants continue to complicate their plans.
The highly contagious omicron variant has dashed hope for downtown awakenings in January. Securian's headquarters are in downtown St. Paul while Xcel's are in downtown Minneapolis. They joined Wells Fargo and other firms at pushing back dates, some indefinitely.
Steve Cramer, chief executive of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, said it is unclear how many more firms will follow.
"Omicron is a fast-developing wrinkle, so a little hard to say without having almost daily conversations," he said. Earlier this month, many major employers were looking at Jan. 10 as the most popular return-to-work date.
Securian, the insurance and employee benefits giant, was originally set to bring back its 3,000 employees, many who work in downtown St. Paul, soon after Labor Day. The return date is now Feb. 1.
"We are monitoring the situation and we will see what comes," said Securian spokesman Jeff Bakken.
Like many workplaces, Securian allows employees to work in the offices if they choose. The plan now is for groups of workers to return on a permanent hybrid basis in phases, he said.
At Xcel Energy, all 4,600 Minnesota workers are newly preparing for a "full return to work" date of Jan. 31, three weeks later than planned, said spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo.
Wells Fargo last week delayed plans to have 7,000 Minneapolis employees return in person by Jan. 10. The bank, following Target's lead, did not assign a new return-to-office date.
Target, based in downtown Minneapolis, said it won't issue a new back-to-office date and expects to have a hybrid work model for its office workers.
Other employers say they want the advantages of in-person work and will move forward with plans to require a return to office, but will postpone the date.
Architecture and design firm Perkins & Will, for example, postponed return-to-work to mid-January from early December because of COVID-19 infection rates and apprehension from workers with unvaccinated children.
The firm, with offices in the IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis, planned a holiday event Dec. 9 for all employees. "We pulled the plug on that," said Lisa Pool, global head of workplace strategies for the 22-office design firm.
"We were encouraging people to come in more frequently starting in December because we saw people were missing that interaction and we are a creative organization. But then this omicron variant came in and things heated up," she said. "Now the firm has issued a directive to work from home if you can until the middle of January."
There's a chance the directive will last longer, Pool said. "We'll just monitor the situation. Omicron has come down rapidly. And we are sensitive to the fact that Minnesota is one of the hot spots in the country."
U.S. Bank, with nearly 5,000 employees in downtown Minneapolis, is sticking to Jan. 10 as the date staffers return to offices. "We don't have any change at this point," said spokesman Jeff Shelman.
Employment, law and office market experts such as the Society for Human Resource Management, the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), Mercer and CBRE have been busy with virtual events during the past month advising employers on how to reopen offices.
Don Davis, vice president of advocacy, codes and standards for BOMA, said in one of these events with St. Paul members that many employers are concerned about how to manage as COVID-19 variants emerge and case numbers change.
Many building and business owners are asking about when and how to administer mask and vaccine mandates, how to advise on COVID-19 testing and how to deal with employees who do not follow the new rules.
Davis emphasized following state law and always having health and safety protocols guide decisionmaking.
As noted in a Zoom session with Mercer consultants, many businesses are awaiting the Supreme Court ruling on President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate.