When the coronavirus outbreak first broke out and workers were told to pack their desks and prepare to do their work from home, many companies assumed they would keep this agreement in place for a few weeks. At the time, no one could have guessed that 18 months later, a large part of the US workforce would still be working remotely.
But unfortunately we are here. And the kicker? Just a few months ago, it seemed like the trend towards remote work was finally reversing.
At the beginning of the summer, well-known companies began concretizing plans for workers to return to office buildings – some on a part-time basis, some on a full-time basis. But then the Delta variant took off, and since then the same companies have had to roll back their plans and postpone their reopenings.
Facebook, for example, is postponing his office return to January 2022. Apple postponed the reopening to October initially, but has since postponed it even further to match Facebook’s timeline. And now it looks like remote working easily has the potential to last two solid years, which is very bad news for real estate investors who own office real estate investment trusts (REITs).
In office buildings, the pain continues
Office buildings have been largely empty since the coronavirus crisis began, and it is at this stage of the game that office REIT investors get nervous. Earlier this summer, real estate investors were encouraged to reopen offices through a specific set of plans. But even now, it is difficult to predict when offices will be able to operate with a reasonable capacity.
And it wouldn’t be rash to assume that companies delaying their reopenings until early 2022 may have to postpone those schedules even further once January kicks off.
At this point, it’s easy to argue that a few months of vacant office buildings won’t be a big deal in the grand office refurbishment plan. The problem is, the longer companies keep working remotely, the more likely they and their employees will get used to it.
Therefore, delayed reopening plans could lead more companies to cut down on office supplies and work from home, even as the situation improves with the COVID-19 outbreak.
It’s also worth noting that many companies are delaying their return to the office despite having vaccine mandates. Part of that could be due to the surge in groundbreaking coronavirus cases among vaccinated people, which was a by-product of the recent surge.
However, President Biden recently announced a vaccine mandate for companies with 100 or more employees to either require coronavirus vaccines for employees or introduce weekly testing protocols. This alone could lead not only to increases in vaccination rates, but also to safer practices that make returns to office buildings easier at the national level.
The millionacres bottom line
Right now, employers don’t want the liability that comes with forcing workers into the office at a time when the pandemic is not nearly under control. So it certainly won’t be shocking if some companies hit the two-year mark of remote working before employees have to report back to their workplaces in person.
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