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Return to the Office on the Horizon

Remote work might be the new normal, but it wasn’t meant to last forever. Even now, a year after coronavirus forced offices to shut down at a drop of a dime, most employees remain at home. While there are advantages to remote work, it has its downsides. Numerous company executives believe that having employees in the office, working side by side, improves collaboration and company culture, which in turn improves performance. As cases decline and vaccinations become more widely available, company executives across the country are wrestling with how and when to reopen offices.

Few companies have concrete plans for returning to work, although states and municipalities are beginning to loosen restrictions which means that we can expect more clarity in the coming weeks. What is clear is that Americans, employers and employees alike, are eager to return to normalcy — which might look like going back to the office, grabbing lunch with coworkers, stopping for drinks after a long day, etc. 

Not only does returning to the office benefit many employees and employers, it also means good news for the commercial real estate industry and city centers. No longer seeing the benefit of their costly rent, many corporations have chosen to downsize or move out entirely. Commercial real estate companies have seen their revenue decline as a result. Furthermore, a return to the office would help revive struggling city bars, restaurants, and transit systems.

Challenges that Lie Ahead

Many companies, however, have said that reversing remote work and returning to prepandemic life will be difficult. Of the many considerations, comfort level is one of the most important. Many have become accustomed to the work from home life, and are unwilling, either because of personal preference of health concerns, to come back to the office. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, over half of employees said that, given the option, they would want to keep working from home even after the pandemic. Companies are considering making in person work voluntary (depending on whether or not the type of work can be done from home) and also exploring flexible, half remote schedules.

Among the other obstacles are childcare and vaccinations. Not all local schools have returned to in-person learning. Both children and workers need to be able to leave the house before companies can make any firm decisions. Returning to the office is largely contingent on mass immunization, but can employers require their employees to get vaccinated? Most likely not. Attorneys say that mandatory vaccination is a gray area, and organizations should encourage rather than require their employees to get vaccinated. Ultimately, every business will need to make their own decision and be flexible with and considerate of their employees.