Who’s returning to the office? Almost no one

Just 8% of employees are back; real estate industry is exception

TRD New York /
Aug.August 14, 2020 08:45 AM
(iStock)

(iStock)

Three months ago, New York City’s major employers thought only 10 percent of their workers would be back in the office by now.

It turns out that things are not as bad as expected. They’re worse.

Only 8 percent of their employees have returned to workplaces, according to a follow-up to a late-May survey by the Partnership for New York City, a leading business group.

Moreover, just 26 percent of them are expected back by the end of the year, and 54 percent by July 2021, the survey — answered by 146 employers — found.

One exception was the real estate industry, where 53 percent of workers are already at their desks and 94 percent are anticipated to return sometime this year.

Tech employers were also relatively optimistic, as they expect 74 percent of staff to be back by July 2021. In the 50 percent range were finance, insurance and consulting firms.

Bringing up the rear were accounting, media and entertainment, sports, and hospitality companies. It is unclear when arenas and theaters will be allowed to welcome customers again.

Slightly more than three-quarters of companies cited Covid as the primary reason that so many of Manhattan’s 1.2 million office workers would not soon return, and 10 percent ranked it No. 2. What could possibly be a greater worry? “Transit safety” was the next-greatest concern, but that was undoubtedly also because of Covid — even though the subways have not been a significant source of coronavirus transmission, thanks to rapid air recirculation and high rates of mask-wearing.

Next on the list of reasons to work from home was a lack of child care. If schools and day care centers are not open, parents will be doing Zoom calls at home with their kids running amok or attending school remotely. Public schools are scheduled to open next month, but most students will not be allowed to attend them every weekday.

In one hopeful sign for office landlords and the thousands of businesses that rely on commuters, the least important factor cited by survey respondents was employees’ desire to continue working from home. That suggests that once people can safely come back to work, most of them will.

Two-thirds of respondents were from Midtown and 18 percent were based in the Financial District.

Last month the Partnership for New York City released a blueprint for the Big Apple’s economy to recover. It estimated that as many as one in three of the 230,000 small businesses in the city’s commercial corridors might never reopen.


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