National Bank is the latest financial institution to delay its plans to have more employees return to the office as concerns increase about the highly transmissible omicron variant of Covid-19.

Bank spokesman Jean-Francois Cadieux said Wednesday that the bank has asked employees to avoid the office as it closely monitors the evolving situation.

“A message was sent earlier this morning to our employees asking them to work remotely if they can,” he said in a statement.

Over the longer term, the bank plans to stick to a strategy of opening gradually and voluntarily, said Cadieux. Before the latest announcement about 15% of employees were back in corporate offices.

The change in plans comes as Covid-19 cases from the omicron variant are rising, which prompted the Ontario government on Friday to ask employers to make every effort to allow employees to work from home.

The Bank of Nova Scotia said earlier this week that it was putting a hold on its planned Jan. 17 return to the office and will reassess timing in the new year.

“Based on the Government of Ontario’s latest guidance, Scotiabank is pausing its plans to begin a phased and gradual return to office,” Scotiabank spokeswoman Kate Simandl said in an email.

The bank plans a staggered return to the office when it does eventually go ahead, with the majority of head office employees working in a hybrid model, she said.

Sun Life Financial Inc. also said this week that it has put a pause on expanding its return-to-office pilot program.

“We are encouraging all employees, including voluntary pilot participants, to work from home until the end of January,” said spokewoman Robyn Keene in an email.

She said that some employees may still prefer to work in the office, and that the company will continue to evaluate safety protocols.

The shift in policy comes as Toronto’s downtown was starting to show signs of activity, said Jennifer Reynolds, chief executive of Toronto Finance International.

“Sadly I do think we’re going to see a reduction in traffic, relative to what we were starting to see in the financial district and generally.”

She said companies are working through a lengthy process of navigating a return to the office, and trying to figure out what the best models are going forward, but that companies do see the value of people working together in person.

“There’s a feeling in senior leadership that we do need a portion of our time in the office, that there is, on a long-term basis, something lost if everyone is at home.”