Businesses may be done with the virus, but the virus is definitely not done with us.

Details of a new variant were published in Nature over Thanksgiving week, offering an ironic twist to the holiday of thankfulness. Given many nations already find themselves struggling to deal with the current Delta variant, the news of a potentially even more transmissible variant sent markets into a frenzy and prompted international travel bans.

The new variant strain, dubbed “Omicron” by the World Health Organization, is now officially classified as a variant of concern. Although data is very early and much remains unknown, there is good reason to believe the variant might have at least partial vaccine evading properties.

This speculation is due to scientists having located over 30 mutations during sequencing, many of which reside in highly critical areas of the spike protein functioning. As the spike protein is a significant target for our current vaccines, this could spell trouble. In combination with rapidly spiking cases and early evidence for possible vaccine escape, the worst-case scenario plays out in the form of a Round 2 global pandemic requiring full lockdowns.

This possibility has many business leaders on edge — and for a good reason. But, at the same time, getting this news early gives us plenty of time to prepare.

In a pandemic-turning-endemic world, it’s wise for businesses to be prepared for three things at any given time: Complete lockdowns requiring fully remote work, a hybrid environment of in-person and remote work, or entirely in-person work with preventive measures. Many businesses began adapting during the early pandemic phase, at least partially. Yet, too many appear to believe things will be back to normal soon and didn’t institute long-term protocols. This approach is an oversight.

Most importantly, as the virus becomes endemic, businesses must be prepared for increased sick days and quarantine time from employees to become standard. Notably, these illnesses will require substantially longer than the standard cold or flu for recovery time.

What can we do?

1) Teams should be built around work and expertise being shared enough between employees to cover unexpected and extended illness or quarantine requirements, and
2) Work environments should be permanently enhanced for remote opportunities wherever possible — for a variety of reasons, this is our future.

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