Back to the office? Back to work? Back to work at home?
As the coronavirus appears to be slowing down, businesses and companies are considering which direction to take with employees who have been doing their jobs remotely for more than a year. And it’s not just about where, but when.
Brandon Mendoza has his finger on the pulse of this dilemma and the pulse tells him “office”.
“From what I see, over 70 to 80% of office workers will be back in office on a regular basis over the next six months,” said Mendoza of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, a national trade association for the retail sector, real estate developers, owners, investors and professionals.
However, the director of NAIOP’s Pittsburgh office added a caveat. “I don’t see all employees in the office on the same day and at the same time. I can see three or four days at work with alternate schedules. “
Working remotely during this global crisis has been a kind of experiment – one that many employers and employees consider successful.
Maybe a lucrative success. Bloomberg.com recently cited a study that found that working remotely will increase economic productivity in the US by 5%. The study attributes most of this increase to a shorter commute time.
Due to uncertainty, many companies have not yet formulated post-pandemic plans for their workforce – whether it be staying at home, returning, or a mixture of both.
Most of the local businesses contacted by the Observer reporter about this story said they are waiting to develop schedules. These decisions will ultimately affect commercial real estate, especially in Pittsburgh and other urban areas. If employees continue to work remotely, some companies will require less rental space, which will lower their costs.
Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said, “Many companies are re-evaluating their office space needs. You will learn that many positions that have traditionally been filled from a central office building can be effectively completed from a remote environment with equal efficiency. “
He said vacancy rates in Southpointe have “increased and several large sub-leases have come on the market in the past few months”.
Mendoza said some companies are in the middle of the decision-making process on the ground. “The HR department talks virtually to the employees and sees where they are. I see a lot of decisions in the summer to determine what companies will do in the fall.
“I also see companies encouraging their employees to get the vaccine.”
He credited the introduction of the vaccine for speeding up the decision-making process on the job site. “I’m pretty bullish,” said Mendoza. “Six months ago I had a different view. I was thinking of a return in 2022 (in offices). With the success of the rollout so far, the development looks really positive. “
Three weeks ago, all employees were moved back to the huge facility that housed AccuTrex Products, a contract manufacturer that first opened in Southpointe in March 1993, said Mark Beichner, chief operating officer.
“We have a quarter of a million square feet of manufacturing facility and various types of equipment that cannot be taken home,” he said. Most of the remaining 30% of the workforce, essentially office clerks and management, started working remotely when the pandemic hit the region in March 2020.
“Even when we were away, we tried it for a week, a week so we wouldn’t contaminate each other,” Beichner said. “We had a lot of people wearing multiple hats. Some had the option to work from home and chose to live here. “
He said AccuTrex was doing fine through March 2020. However, due to lower demand for products, the company ended the year with an operating loss of $ 600,000. In the first quarter of this year it was then $ 700,000.
“But we have a very strong financial portfolio and we didn’t have to lay off a person,” said Beichner. “We see a clear turnaround in our second quarter.”