The return to pre-pandemic office life is being described as a “slow-drip,” as traditionalists battle new-norms in the effort to bring employees back to their cubicles. Where some companies are offering incentives, others are being more firm by threatening pay cuts should workers not come back after Memorial Day.
Vaccination rates and ease of restrictions offers hope that more people will feel comfortable returning. However, there is a great feeling among market experts that office-occupancy will not even reach 80% of pre-pandemic levels even when the CDC lifts the label.
“Right now, it’s a slow drip,” said Gensler Senior Associate Erin Greer, a co-director of the design firm’s workplace studio. “There’s that push and pull between traditionalists, if you will, who think you can put the genie back in the bottle.”Bisnow
Now, despite so many cities approaching less restrictive tiers in the CDC’s process of reopening there was an initial sentiment that workers would start pouring in by mid-year. Much to their dismay, occupancy among the top-10 largest metropolitans registered at only 28% by mid-May, according to commercial building entry control systems operator, Kastle Systems. Austin, Houston, and Dallas, or secondary markets, are around 40%, and the most populous state, California, still less than 20%.
The rate at which market analysts felt workers would return has been hindered by several factors including lack of affordable child-care services, at the moment, and worker anxiety to return to the workplace. Some feel that the baseline needs to evolve as the traditional 9-5, Monday through Friday schedule has become obsolete with so many having worked from home for over a year now. Flex-schedules are being introduced at companies including American Express, Dell, and United Health Group.
Other companies are incentivizing a return to work by offering stimulus checks of their own aimed at supporting employee childcare or commuting costs, and some California based entities are partnering with educational services to offer tutoring for its employees children. And where there is the ability to make profit, some will, which is the case with PacificCorp, a Portland based power company, that is threatening employees with a 10% pay cut in exchange for a remote work schedule.
“Sadly, it’s human nature oftentimes to take advantage of a situation if you’re able to, and I think people are just finding excuses of why they don’t want to be in the office today that are not related to the pandemic,” Bianco said.
The general consensus at least for now, is that if companies want their employees to engage in pre-pandemic manner, than the company itself has to act ‘normal again.’ And this suggests operating in the office without the use of masks so as to remind people that we are not in a pandemic anymore. But will it be enough? A recent Harvard study found that 81% of its respondents did not want to go back to traditional office work, and 27% preferred a full-time remote schedule. An additional survey by the app Blind, yielded a response of about 3,000 people that said they wouldn’t mind relinquishing $30K a year to work from home.