Over the past months, experts have been trying to predict when people will return to their offices. Employers and employees alike had to embrace and adapt to remote work in a short time. Many of them have fully adjusted and will never go back to working in a physical office. Others, on the other hand, have fully embraced hybrid work models. Yet, the return to in-person work cannot happen soon enough for those who enjoy working in a physical office. So, when can they expect to be back in the office again?
Delta variant puts the breaks on the return to NYC offices
Cushman & Wakefield recently released the first part of a three-part report dubbed Predicting the Return to the Office. In this first report, Cushman & Wakefield explains that the trajectory of the coronavirus is the main deciding factor in predicting the return to the office. A few months ago, office workers started slowly trickling back into the office. Unfortunately, the Delta variant took over, becoming the dominant strain of the virus. Highly contagious, Delta put the brakes on the return to New York City offices. As a new wave of the pandemic started to rise at the end of the summer, office space in New York City remained vacant.
The good news is that the vaccination effort continues at an accelerated pace. According to the report, the Delta strain could be the last phase of this pandemic. With herd immunization close, some businesses are already gearing up for a total return to the office. Financial services firms like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have been back in the office for a while now. Tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft continue to expand their office footprint in the city, which is a sign that Manhattan commercial real estate is still worth betting on.
Even as offices reopen, remote work is here to stay
According to Cushman & Wakefield’s research, roughly 40% of the global office workforce was back in the office in September, with China leading the way – 90% of Chinese office workers are already back to in-person work. European countries are also slowly bringing people back to their offices, with the U.S. third in this global ranking.
Many businesses have seen the value and benefits of remote or hybrid work. Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft, and even PwC allow some or all of their employees to work remotely indefinitely. Other firms have delayed their scheduled return to the office to 2022, citing concerns over the Delta variant.
Cushman & Wakefield cites data from Kastle Access Control Systems, showing that employee office occupancy peaked at 35% in late July, then receded as the Delta variant started spreading. The data indicate that in-office attendance rested at an average of 34% as of September 15. Occupancy is significantly higher in Texas markets and Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. By comparison, in-office occupancy is lower in high-density markets such as New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. There still looms a reluctance to hop onto public transportation and head into a shared office in these markets.
En masse return to NYC offices? Not before 2022
If vaccination efforts continue at the same pace, herd immunity could be achieved in Q4 2021 in the U.S. Cushman & Wakefield also predicts that most office workers will return to their offices in the first quarter of 2022. However, we should not expect offices to fill with workers next year. According to the report, 60% of office desks were occupied on an average day in the U.S. before the pandemic.
As remote and hybrid work models continue to gain popularity, the occupancy rate might fall below pre-pandemic numbers in 2022. Research from the University of Chicago showed that 42% of office workers would look for a new job or even quit if required to return to the office full-time. Chris Herd, a technology entrepreneur, told The New Yorker that he expects companies to adopt a remote-first culture in the following years. His vision entails that teams get together just once a month, in different convenient locations for the tasks and the people involved. Such strategies are already favored by startups and technology firms, as it spares them the expenses of leasing an office and gives them access to a much wider, global talent pool.