Until last week, Douglas Elliman’s New York employees could report to the office — vaccinated and masked.
Then the Omicron variant forced the brokerage’s hand.
Administrative employees for Douglas Elliman have been told to work from home for the time being, in part to make it safer for agents to still use the offices as this highly contagious wave of the coronavirus sweeps through New York City.
The move was made out of “an abundance of caution” in response to the new COVID-19 variant’s swift spread throughout the city, company spokesperson Stephen Larkin told Inman in an email.
“Employees will work from home while we monitor the situation and devise a return to office plan informed by CDC and state and city guidelines,” Larkin wrote.
The decision comes as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases over two weeks has more than doubled, according to The New York Times case tracker.
The Associated Press reports that the Omicron variant makes up nearly 3 in 4 new cases of COVID-19 throughout the country, a share that rose nearly six times in a single week as this variant has swiftly overtaken others.
While Omicron is extremely easy to catch and spread compared to other strains of the virus — such as the Delta variant that was prominent during the summer — it is unproven how much milder it is, if any.
At Douglas Elliman, agents are still permitted to work in the office if they wear a mask and can prove they’re vaccinated.
But decision-makers are keeping a close eye on the variant, and may adjust the plan as needed, Larkin wrote.
Some other New York brokerages had yet to take such a dramatic step, according to a report published Tuesday by The Real Deal.
In a statement to the publication, a Keller Williams spokesperson said the company doesn’t expect to close its offices at this time. But the company is monitoring the situation and will follow federal, state and local guidelines, the spokesperson said.
At least one major brokerage had been employing a hybrid model. Compass had no immediate plans to change this approach, and future decisions were more likely to be location-specific, not nationwide, The Real Deal reported.
Even at firms that have yet to change their office policies, the new wave of the virus has disrupted office events and prompted some managers to stagger schedules.
At Brown Harris Stevens, managers have the authority to stagger schedules for their staff, an initiative that has the support of the brokerage.
A spokesperson for the company told The Real Deal that employees who wish to work from home are encouraged to raise the request with their supervisor.