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Omicron forces Minneapolis companies to rethink return-to-work

Wells Fargo announced it will delay a planned January return date, while U.S. Bank still plans to bring workers back in a hybrid model after the new year.

MINNEAPOLIS — Ever since the COVID-19 vaccine became widely available in early 2021, companies have charted various return-to-office plans for their workforce.

Many initially wanted to bring workers back after Labor Day, until the delta variant intervened. Then, the target shifted to after New Year's, until omicron intervened. Major companies like Google and Uber, who had been so optimistic they could have more workers in the office by early January, quickly scrapped those plans.

The ripple effects have been felt in the Twin Cities, where the third-largest employer in downtown Minneapolis — Wells Fargo, with 7,000 workers — announced this month that it also has delayed plans for a January return. A spokesperson told KARE 11 that while some vaccinated employees have been voluntarily working in-person, "we look forward to fully returning our teams back to the office and will communicate our plans in the New Year."

Meanwhile, the largest downtown Minneapolis employer, Target, told KARE 11 that some hybrid spaces have opened for on-site work in recent months, but "we won't have any hard deadlines for when team members will need to come back to the office, and we'll offer hybrid and remote options for future meetings."

Jonathan Weinhagen, the president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that the "return-to-work question continues to be a moving target." However, he said that other large companies in downtown Minneapolis have held steady to the early January return date.

For example, a spokesperson for U.S. Bank, the fifth-largest downtown employer, confirmed the company will have workers coming back to the office in a hybrid model on Jan. 10. 

"We're hearing a lot of companies that continued to be resolved to the Jan. 10 date," Weinhagen said. "We're optimistic that we're going to see more than a trickle — probably a rush — back to downtown, come Jan. 10."

Paul DeBettignies, an experienced job recruiter who runs Minnesota Headhunter, LLC, said he expects many companies to delay return-to-work until at least February or March.

"I think a lot of companies are trying to figure it out on the fly," DeBettignies said. "And some people are tired of that. Some people want consistency, they want to know for certain, they want a hard date. And that's hard for employers."

More than 200,000 people worked downtown before the pandemic, according to the Minneapolis Regional Chamber. According to CEO Weinhagen, the downtown occupancy rate creeped up to 43% entering the holidays.

But it's difficult to predict when the workforce will reach full strength in-person again. 

"The hard part is, when you're talking about a Fortune 500 employer in downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul, every decision is impacting thousands of people," DeBettignies said. "When you have two, five, 10 thousand employees, it's a mammoth decision." 

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