Last week, along with my colleagues Lisa Zana and Robert Grady, I presented to the Association of Corporate Counsel group from Westchester County and Southern Connecticut on Returning to the Office.
Of course, it’s still premature. The COVID-19 cases in Connecticut and New York are among the highest in the nation. While vaccinations continue to be ramping up, right now at least, it seems that the virus is willing — particularly among the twenty- and thirty-something generation.
The pandemic isn’t over.
Before my partners talked about the legal issues surrounding office leases and I talked about how some employers might bring some employees back sometime, we also had a representative from CBRE, the largest commercial real estate services company in the world, talk about workplace current trends.
There was lots to digest, but his overall pitch — which I think is the correct one — is that the pandemic did not create new trends; rather it vastly sped up the existing ones and will continue post-pandemic.
Among them was a realization by the C-suite that remote work has maintained or increased workers’ productivity, that employees realized they preferred to work remotely 2-3 days a week and that offices workplaces need to be reconfigured.
As a result, CBRE was predicting that there will be a more fluid workforce in the future, in which offices have more unique hospitality-inspired experiences, where flexibility and technology still rule the day.
Of course, this isn’t going to change some of those essential workplaces, like manufacturers or grocery stores, but for many traditional white-collar jobs in finance, legal, insurance or technology, there is not “going back to normal”.
“Activity-based work” is now under widespread consideration as office occupiers, as CBRE calls them, try to take advantage of the hybrid work model that may spring.
2021 is already shaping up as a whiplash kind of year where we’ve gone from the quiet solitude of the cold winter months, and a state where vaccinations become widespread by summer.
Still, the rush back to the office is more likely to be gradual at best. Employees have grown comfortable with some of the aspects of working from home and employers take stock of whether offices should be reconfigured.
In the meantime, stay safe everyone. The next month or so promises to test everyone’s patience as this latest wave builds (and hopefully crests).