Repeatedly delayed return-to-office plans may finally come to fruition in the coming months, a new report indicates.
While office landlords and brokers once hoped that a majority of workers would be back at their desks after Labor Day, the spread of the contagious Delta variant has forced most employers to delay their plans.
But a new report issued by Cushman & Wakefield predicts that the return-to-office trend in the U.S. and around the globe will finally start to pick up in the first quarter of 2022.
As of Sept. 22, about a third — 34.4 percent — of office workers in the top 10 U.S. markets were physically back to work, according to Kastle Systems, which aggregates data from its swipe-card access systems. Uncertainty over work-from-home arrangements that have endured for longer than expected have hurt the office real estate market.
In an attempt to bring more certainty, Cushman analysts examined Covid infection patterns to predict return-to-office timelines, based on data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a research organization at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Globally, the report predicts Delta variant infections will peak in October or November of this year, then trend downward.
In the U.S., new cases from the Delta variant may have already peaked in early September, the report indicates, even though caseloads and hospitalizations remain elevated from the summer months.
Following the Delta surge trajectory seen in France and India, where the number of infections grew significantly for six to eight weeks before falling quickly, infection rates in the U.S. are likely to be back at pre-Delta levels by December of this year, the report said.
That means by the end of this year, the number of cases should be more manageable. In addition, more people will be protected as an increasing number of employers mandate vaccines.
“Most businesses are hoping to get back as soon as possible,” said David Smith, a co-author of the study. “Based on surging tour activity, we know demand is there — so it’s not a matter of if office buildings will re-populate, but when. The leading data is pointing to Q1 2022.”
In early August, Amazon pushed back its return-to-office date — originally scheduled for the week of Sept. 7 — to Jan. 3. Facebook followed suit and delayed its return date to January as well. Apple — which was one of the first major companies to postpone its return date from September to October — then pushed it to January. And in late August, Google extended its voluntary return-to-work policy through Jan. 10, to “give more Googlers flexibility and choice as they ramp back.”
In the financial sector, Wells Fargo, which has the largest workforce of any U.S. bank, on Tuesday announced it was pushing back its return-to-office plans to January as well, Reuters reported.