Current data issued this week by Cushman & Wakefield suggests that most of the world will achieve herd resiliency—i.e., over 70% either vaccinated or infected—by Q2 2022 and that current trends suggest most office workers globally will be able to return to the office in the first quarter of 2022.
Cushman & Wakefield reported that 40% of the workforce had returned to the office as of September.
The report analyzed office return data from across the globe, as well as the trajectory of the virus and vaccination rates to predict when a large-scale return to office may occur.
The latest research finds that return to the office is directly correlated with high vaccination rates and low infection rates. Researchers also examined additional data, including government restrictions, school openings and public opinion regarding mass transit to project realistic return dates for industries operating in the Americas (U.S. and Canada), APAC (Asia-Pacific), and EMEA (Europe) regions.
“It’s important to remember that pre-pandemic, office buildings were never 100% occupied on any given day; 60% was generally the norm,” said Kevin Thorpe, Chief Economist at Cushman & Wakefield, in prepared comments. “Today, we are at 40% globally, but of course that varies greatly from city to city. Assuming no virus setbacks at this point, we see office buildings and cities reenergizing in early 2022.”
Employee Experience a Focus for Return to the Office
Michael Casolo, chief revenue officer at Unispace, a workplace interior design company, tells GlobeSt that his firm’s clients in the technology and media industries—which are overrepresented in the cities where office demand is increasing—are eager to get their employees back into the office.
“However, with an important caveat: Their employees don’t want to return to the office as it was before the pandemic,” Casolo said. “As a result, companies in these industries are prioritizing the employee experience in office design (such as building physical and digital immersive experiences). They’re looking for innovative ways to foster collaboration and camaraderie in order to better engage their workers. To create these types of spaces, organizations often need to relocate, expand or renovate.”
Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCR.w, principal, applied research + consulting for Steelcase, tells GlobeSt that she’s also hearing “early 2022” as the return date from a wide range of clients across industries, sizes and regions.
“They are making decisions trying to balance safety, attraction/retention, engagement and business needs,” Brower said. “They believe face-to-face work is critical to their business and engagement of their people, but also want to embrace flexibility and provide choice for employees.
“While businesses are expecting a range of return strategies (from all-back to all-remote), the vast majority are expecting a 3/2 model (three days in the office, two days remote) with room for choices based on the nature of work, the needs of teams and the discretion of leaders.”
Safe Return More Important Than Timing
“Most businesses are hoping to get back as soon as possible,” said David Smith, global head of occupier insights and co-author of the study.
“This isn’t a conversation about never going back, it’s a conversation about when can we safely get back to the office because almost all employees and employers have indicated they want to go back—more flexibility, yes, but they want to go back. And 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.”
By Paul Bergeron