Return to the office? Manhattan workers say no thanks

New survey shows just 10% have returned to their desks

Only 10% of Manhattan office workers have returned (Getty)
Only 10% of Manhattan office workers have returned (Getty)

Getting people back to the office might be a tougher sell than some employers thought.

Only 10 percent of workers had returned to Manhattan offices as of late October, according to a survey from Partnership for New York City. That is up from 8 percent in August.

While it was projected then that 26 percent of employees would return to the office by the end of the year, that estimate has now been lowered to 15 percent.

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The real estate industry, which has lobbied hard for businesses to bring employees back to work, is the exception. Almost 73 percent of real estate workers had returned to the office by the end of October, the survey showed, up 20 percentage points from August. That number is expected to reach 87 percent by next July, based on survey responses.

Unsurprisingly, most respondents said the virus was their main concern about returning to work, with transit safety ranking second. Other factors included schools reopening and the availability of child care.

Public transit is still the dominant mode of transportation in Manhattan, which poses challenges for getting people back to work because some fear sharing enclosed spaces with others. More than 25 percent of companies surveyed said they were now offering employees some form of transit benefit, including taxi fares, free car services or subsidized transit passes. Subways, where masks are required and air circulation is rapid, have not been found to be a significant Covid threat.

With pharmaceutical companies rushing to create a vaccine, some employers are waiting to see what happens. In the survey, 27 percent said they didn’t know when their employees would return to work.

Many are embracing work from home. In the past six months, tech companies including Facebook, Zillow and Twitter have told employees they can work from home permanently. The survey shows that 49 percent of tech employees are expected to return by next July, which is down from an estimate of 74 percent two months ago.