Warren Buffett questions the need for office space

Berkshire Hathaway boss predicts fundamental change in demand and supply

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett (Buffett by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett (Buffett by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)

The Oracle of Omaha foretells an existential challenge for office space.

At Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting on Saturday — held this year via live stream from an empty arena — CEO Warren Buffett quipped that it had been more than seven weeks since he had put on a tie. And the extended period of remote work may affect more than just clothing choices.

“The supply and demand for office space may change significantly,” Buffett said. “A lot of people have learned that they can work at home, or that there’s other methods of conducting their business than they might have thought from what they were doing a couple of years ago. When change happens in the world, you adjust to it.”

Throughout the event, which lasted more than four hours, Buffett made his case for a bullish view of the U.S. economy in the long term. He also praised the government’s Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses — while acknowledging some of the controversies around its administration.

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“It must be hell to administer,” he said. “It just isn’t that easy to inaugurate incredibly large [programs]. There’s going to be a certain amount of fraud.”

Buffett also said that his firm — whose holdings include Geico, Dairy Queen, railroads and energy companies — may need to lay off some workers in the short term. He also said that front-line health care, delivery and food-service workers deserve higher wages and more respect.

Economic fallout from the coronavirus has also led the legendary investor to dump his entire stake in airline stocks.

“We like those airlines but the world has changed…and I don’t know how it’s changed,” Buffett said at the meeting. [WSJ] — Kevin Sun