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Omicron variant delays return to office plans; businesses look for other ways to navigate ceaseless coronavirus spread

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As we enter the third year of the pandemic, the future of in-person work seems pretty bleak. Companies are continuing to look for ways to keep employees motivated, up to date and healthy as the Omicron variant makes an impact.  

Return to office plans delayed again 

As the Omicron variant spread like wildfire in December, carriers have pushed back their return to office plans again. Not only does this demonstrate how the coronavirus continues to push digitalization and emphasize the importance of adaptability, but it also highlights the significance of a strong hybrid and remote work model. Here’s a quick update on a handful of carriers and their return to work plans as of January 2022. 

  • The Hartford delayed its return-to-office plans and plans to reassess the situation in February.
  • Erie Insurance is currently only allowing employees who volunteer to return to the office and delayed the company’s broader return-to-office plans. 
  • CSAA and Travelers limited access to offices to only vaccinated employees. 
  • USAA has yet to make any official changes to business travel or hybrid work policies.
  • Nationwide is continuing the flexible work model that the carrier implemented in June 2021. This model requires no more than 50% of staff to be allowed in buildings. The carrier recently paused its vaccination requirement due to legal challenges around the mandate back in December.
  • MetLife pushed their return to office plans to March 2022. 

Carriers ramp up approach to Omicron

Although President Joe Biden announced that the federal government would distribute rapid coronavirus tests for free nationwide in December, the cost of testing kits has surged more than three times their regular retail price. In response, larger insurance carriers are taking it into their own hands to provide what they can while the wait for federal help continues. 

USAA announced in January that it would offer employees on-site rapid tests as well as at-home testing kits. CSAA also announced that it would reimburse weekly at-home tests for some employees who could be at risk of contracting COVID-19. 

Other carriers have been requiring employees to show proof of vaccination and even charging fees to those who don’t want to be vaccinated. 

Vaccine passports and insurance

Carriers aren’t the only ones requiring proof of vaccination – vaccine passports have served as a way to reassure workers, customers and employers that they are protected against the coronavirus.

In fact, some larger companies like the Mayo Clinic, Cigna, Microsoft and IBM have developed their own vaccine passport technology for employees that can be scanned with a common QR scanner. Walmart and Sam’s Club also developed an app to store proof of vaccination credentials. Mastercard also plans on advancing a vaccine passport solution.

While this development increases awareness and caution around the spread of coronavirus, the increasing interest in vaccine passports also bleeds into the issue around companies handling sensitive data, workplace discrimination, HIPAA and cybersecurity development. As P&C insurers learn to navigate the digitalization of the industry, could the development of vaccine passports be a way for carriers to get ahead of the game?

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Jasmine KimB2B Content Manager

Jasmine is The Zebra’s newsroom content writer. With a background in journalism, she reports on breaking news, trends, mergers and acquisitions, and financial reports related to the insurance industry.