The Apartment and Office Building Association (AOBA) of Metropolitan Washington was out with an instructive, and in a number of ways concerning, report last week on not just the current status of getting employees back into the office, but also what a failure to do so would represent in the bigger picture across the region.
The update noted that returning workers into offices has been “slow and arduous” as well as inconsistent. In early spring, the return-to-the-office rate in the local area had hit about 40 percent, with hopes it would continue to grow. Instead, it hit a plateau. Even midweek, most offices on average have only about half their pre-pandemic occupancy; on Mondays and Fridays, they’re often a wasteland.
As we opined as early as the first summer of COVID back in 2020, there are consequences both to bringing employees back into group settings too soon, and also to continuing a work-from-home mentality too long.
The consequences of the latter were laid out by the AOBA update: If employers have fewer employees in the office, they need less office space. If they need less office space, they downsize. If they downsize, office-vacancy rates rise because there’s simply not enough new business coming into the local region to fill up the vacated space. If office-vacancy rates rise, ancillary businesses (like restaurants) that rely on daytime traffic suffer. So, too, do local governments, which will see tax revenues drop. That tax burden will either be pushed onto homeowners (it’s already happening in places like Arlington) or the shortfall will be used as an excuse to reduce services.
There’s no simple or singular solution, and we’re not necessarily advocating a draconian get-your-butts-back-in-the-office protocol when some businesses and agencies have found they can function just fine with a work-at-home (at least part of the time) mentality.
But let’s not pretend that there won’t be implications for continuing on that path. There will.