Offices Close and Holiday Parties Fade as Omicron Brings New Concerns

As employers weigh vaccine guidelines and adjust their office returns, they also face a more immediate challenge: How will they celebrate the holidays as Omicron spreads? After a year of email and Slack correspondence, corporate teams had been eagerly anticipating holiday parties. But as New York City’s new Covid cases rose significantly after party invitations went out, dozens of companies scrambled to cancel their plans.

Vincent Chee, head of people and culture at Bevel, a communications consultancy with 30 employees, had started making arrangements for the company’s holiday celebration in late September: It would involve a scavenger hunt, a make-your-own snow-globe session and hot cocoa. Last week, when an employee tested positive for the virus, the company shifted to virtual celebrations.

“We’re going back to basics,” Mr. Chee said, describing his plans for online yoga and meals that employees can expense on food delivery websites like Seamless.

Meanwhile, employers that held holiday parties right as cases were exploding are trying to help their workers manage the aftermath: BuzzFeed, which hosted a party last week in Manhattan, said attendees reported positive test results to the company’s in-house epidemiologist, and close contacts were encouraged to get tested.

Some company leaders came under fire for taking a middle-of-the-road approach to party cancellations. Peloton decided not to host a holiday party because of Covid concerns, budgetary considerations and space constraints, according to the company. But then the chief executive and his wife held their own celebration at the Plaza Hotel, which some Peloton employees attended.

“John and Jill Foley hosted a personal holiday party for their friends and family, some of whom were Peloton team members,” a company official said in an email. “This was not a Peloton-paid or -sponsored event.”

Some people whose companies have pressed ahead with holiday festivities are left wondering whether to assume the risk of gathering with co-workers. Emily Crebbin, 24, who works for a global technology company, said she felt a sense of unease toggling between Twitter and TikTok posts about the rapid spread of Omicron in New York City while she planned an outfit for her employer’s holiday party on Friday.