UPDATE: Feb. 3, 2022: Citing improved COVID-19 trends in New York City, American Express announced Thursday it's moving forward with its hybrid work plan for employees who work out of its New York offices.
Amex CEO Steve Squeri said the company will have a "soft launch" of its Amex Flex work plan March 1, before fully implementing it March 15 for New York employees, according to a company memo made public in a press release.
During the soft launch, "we are encouraging colleagues in hybrid roles to come into the office at least one day a week," Squeri wrote, per the release. The phased approach gives employees who’ve been working virtually for the past two years time to adjust, he said, before putting the plan in full effect March 15, "with colleagues in hybrid roles adopting the schedules set initially with their leaders."
Squeri said a return-to-office will take longer for the company’s other U.S. locations, since COVID-19 cases in some regions haven't decreased to the level that they have in New York.
"As always, we will make decisions to return on a location-by-location basis," he said, adding that the company expects to announce dates for other U.S. office returns soon and give employees at least two weeks’ notice.
- Citing the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19, American Express is postponing the launch of a new approach to employees working from home and the company's offices, the New York card company said in a memo to U.S. employees on Tuesday.
- Previously set to start Jan. 24, the new "Amex Flex" approach will now be put on hold in the U.S. "until we feel comfortable bringing a large number of colleagues back together in the office," Amex CEO Steve Squeri said in the memo, which was made public in a press release.
- Squeri said the company’s executive team will closely monitor the situation while consulting with medical experts, "and when we determine that the time is right, we will give you a two-week notice before the official start of Amex Flex in our U.S. offices," he wrote.
Add American Express to the list of those in financial services that have encountered pandemic bumps in the road when it comes to office return plans. Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are among the others grappling with the situation as COVID-19 spreads rapidly yet again via omicron.
The larger card network rival Visa didn't immediately respond to requests for information about its plans regarding employees' work location, while a Mastercard spokesperson declined to comment on the topic.
American Express introduced Amex Flex last October, touting it as the "best of both worlds" amid a work environment changed by the pandemic. Squeri noted the positives to come out of remote work, including efficiency, flexibility and a more level playing field. "At the same time, the office will continue to play an important role in Amex’s future," Squeri wrote in October, noting in-person benefits like collaboration and mentorship.
The Amex Flex model includes hybrid workers splitting their weeks between the office and home; onsite workers spending four to five days in the office; and fully virtual workers exclusively operating remotely.
Currently, U.S. offices continue to remain open for fully vaccinated employees who wish to go in, but social distancing and mask-wearing in common areas are encouraged, Squeri said this week. Employees are strongly encouraged to get vaccines and booster shots, and can receive paid time off for doing so.
Squeri said previously that the company expects hybrid workers will average two days per week in the office, and teams will find common days to operate in the office together.
A 2021 employee survey found almost 80% of staffers want to come back to the office at least some of the time; about 20% prefer full remote work.
"We fundamentally believe that in order to fuel our special culture, it’s important for most colleagues to spend a portion of their time together in the office," Squeri wrote in October. A "large majority" are expected to opt for hybrid schedules, he said, while "a relatively small percentage" of employees are likely to choose the onsite option.
Employees also can opt to work up to four weeks from somewhere besides their primary work location, when they wouldn’t have to come into the office. Squeri said most employees expressed a desire for variety and flexibility in their work environments; the latter has become a top priority for workers across industries amid the pandemic.
Previously, the plan was to introduce Amex Flex in the U.S., U.K. and Germany in January at the earliest; offices in other areas would transition to the model at different times depending on local situations.
"Despite the ongoing uncertainty of the current health situation and the new challenges we will undoubtedly encounter, I am incredibly optimistic that, by remaining focused on backing our customers, colleagues and communities, 2022 will be a year of great progress and growth, not only for our company, but for us as individuals, as well," Squeri wrote.