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Big Question: How Many At-Home Workers Will Commute Again?

The answer impacts commercial and residential sales. Some employees want to go back, but a few might be surprised to find it's mandatory. Employers say it affects hiring.

NEW YORK – News reports suggest that a new breed of workers will continue to work at home, often citing large companies that have already made it official, such as Twitter and Facebook. However, it’s not yet clear how much will change once the pandemic ends.

The question is important, however. It directly impacts the commercial office market and can impact growth in the outer suburbs and in cities if more buyers find they’re obligated to drive to work on a regular basis.

During the pandemic, a lot more people started working from home. For some companies, the jump to a remote workforce has been successful. However, some commercial real estate professionals are acknowledging that some areas of the adjustment have been a struggle – notably, networking and training newer employees.

Technology and videoconferencing tools have helped industries get their work done in new ways. Offices found savings by not having workers in the office all of the time.

“I felt that, in at least the first few weeks, we were really functioning well,” says David Eyzenberg, the founder and president of Eyzenberg & Company, a real estate investment bank, which moved its two dozen employees to remote work early in the pandemic. Eyzenberg says he and his staff were communicating as much as they ever were even with everyone working remotely.

However, “I will tell you if I told the company, ‘We’re just going to be remote,’ I’d probably lose half the company immediately,” Eyzenberg told commercial real estate news site Commercial Observer based on feedback he’s gotten from employees.

As weeks of remote work have turned into months, the practice may be losing some of its sparkle for other companies as well.

Cushman & Wakefield surveyed 40,000 office workers about COVID-era workplace practices and released its findings in June. Workers who had experience working from home before the pandemic – ones who had a dedicated place to work and maintained lots of communication with coworkers – are faring the best working remotely, the study found.

Commercial real estate execs said they could work efficiently from home, but coordinating timing with external services has been problematic. For example, the pandemic has created delays in permitting and other approvals and on inspections.

Some companies reported to Commercial Observer struggles with the loss of networking that often leads to developments, leases and financing. They have struggled to recreate those relationships over videoconferencing tools.

“This is a relationship business,” Jerrod Delaine, a real estate asset management and construction director at Carthage Real Estate Advisors, says. “At some point, we’ll have to find a way to continue to generate new business and contacts.”

Firms noted a specific problem training and mentoring new employees, saying it’s been a struggle during the pandemic. They it’s easier to communicate remotely if you’ve worked with people for years.

It’s not just companies wondering about working from home – many employees also have challenges. Most members of Generation Z (70%) and millennials (69%) have reported at least minor problems in working from home, though only 55% of baby boomers said the same thing, according to the Cushman & Wakefield office-worker study.

According to the survey, the younger generations are more likely to have roommates or care for younger children, and that may be distracting them from work. But it might also be related somewhat with their lack of experience and relationship with a firm, since they tend to be newer.

Source: “What Worked, What Didn’t for CRE Pros Working Remotely,” Commercial Observer (Aug. 10, 2020)

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