Remote work could become a workplace standard in New York City

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Gabriel Rivera, Science & Technology Editor

Only 10% of Manhattan office workers that made the switch to remote work in March 2020 have returned to their office, according to a poll conducted by the Partnership for New York City.

The percentage, which has remained unchanged since October, is one of several indications that work from home is more than a band aid solution to COVID-19 lockdowns; it is the future of New York City.

Over a year has passed since New York, home to a few of the largest central business districts in the United States, enforced a mandatory lockdown. Storefronts that overlooked the once busy streets of Manhattan were boarded up, and non-essential workers scrambled to adjust to working from their homes.

Although many have been suffering from “late-stage pandemic burnout,” over half of the employed adults who said they were capable of doing their job remotely prefer to do so either permanently or most of the time once the pandemic is over, according to a study published by the Pew Research Center last December.

Of those same adults, 11% said they want to rarely or never work remotely again. Many employers have also changed their stance on working from home.

A survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers at the start of this year found that 83% of employers considered the shift to remote work a success – a significant increase from the 73% of employers that gave the same response last summer.

For instance, Spotify Technology S.A has allowed its employees to work from anywhere.

“We believe that we’re on top of the next change, which is the Distributed Age, where people can be more valuable in how they work, which doesn’t really matter where you spend your time,” said Alexander Westerdahl, vice president of human resources at Spotify, according to The New York Times.

“The change is mainly driven by globalization and digitalization, and our tools are much, much better at allowing for people to work from anywhere.”

Some employers in New York City and nationwide, however, still believe returning to work in-person is critical to the success of their business.

Only 5% of employers were convinced that their employees could work from home permanently and maintain their company’s culture, as per the same survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Tech giants make up some of the companies that plan to welcome employees back into their offices in the coming weeks. They have served as an anomaly in the business world throughout the pandemic, racking up billions in profits and purchasing more office spaces in New York City.

Google LLC and Facebook Inc. have also both unveiled plans to accommodate the return of their employees at select headquarters nationwide due to the increase in availability of vaccines.

Although many major New York City employers, like JP Morgan & Chase Co., hope to have employees work in their offices in the near future, they have admitted the traditional five-day workweek is “a relic,” according to The New York Times.

“Going back to the office with 100% of the people 100% of the time, I think there is zero chance of that,” said Daniel Pinto, co-president and chief operating officer of JP Morgan & Chase Co., in a February interview with CNBC. “As for everyone working from home all the time, there is also zero chance of that.”

Local government officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, also believe a return to work in-person is a necessary step in New York City’s economic recovery.

The mayor previously touted May 3 as the date he hopes to see 80,000 government workers return to work in city buildings, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Despite remote work being favored by many who can work virtually in New York City, the pandemic has highlighted a glaring disparity in how some workers do or do not have the capacity to work from home on a permanent basis.

The same December study conducted by Pew Research Center demonstrated low-income workers and adults without a four-year college degree to be more likely to not be able to work from home.

Paired with the growing number of office spaces available for rent in Manhattan, many retailers are certain there will still be people returning to their pre-pandemic workspaces.

“I’ve seen the obituary for New York City many times,” said Brian Waterman, executive vice chairman of Newmark, a commercial real estate services firm, according to The New York Times.

“The office reboarding will start to occur in May, June and July, and you are going to have a much fuller occupancy once we hit September,” Waterman added.