Nearly 70 percent of American businesses have closed at least some office space since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to a recent survey. And while most commercial real estate experts expect many workers to return to the office, the space may be very different than just two years ago.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of our clients downsize their office space and transition into a hybrid working format,” Eric Kuhn of Pillar Real Estate Advisors in West Chester said. “There has also been a big uprising in utilizing smaller office spaces which allows larger companies to branch out into different satellite sites.”
In August, Digital.com, an independent review website for small business online products, services, and tools, conducted a survey to gain insight into future workplace trends and the transition to remote work. Research experts who led this survey examined responses from 1,250 businesses that had staff working on-site before the pandemic.
According to the survey, since March 2020, 37 percent of businesses have closed all their office space. Another 32 percent have shut down some of their office space. Within the next six months, 39 percent of businesses anticipate closing some or all office space. In addition, since the pandemic, 41 percent of companies have downsized their existing office space, and another 51 percent plan to keep office space will allow employees to choose to work fully remotely indefinitely.
Other reasons for closing office space include continued concern for the health of their employees, equal or increased employee productivity at home, and cost savings.
The closings were more common among larger, rather than smaller employers. Businesses with 10 or fewer employees were more likely to keep all office spaces open. Nearly half of companies from that group reported no office closures, while 45 percent of businesses with over 500 employees reported closing all of them.
Most of the businesses that cleared out their offices saw benefits, including improved creativity, communication, company culture, employee oversight, and productivity.
“The key to success in the Age of Connected Intelligence is giving workers the ability to choose environments that match their personalities and job functions, whether at home or in the office,” Dennis Consorte, startup consultant and small business expert, told Digital.com. “Despite the paradigm shift toward a remote workforce, most employers still feel there are benefits to having employees working in-person.”
As a result of having fewer employees on-site, 58 percent of companies have downsized their office space. Furthermore, half of the employers maintaining office space will allow employees to keep working remotely.
While there are many benefits of working remotely, many companies are still trying to get back to work in person.
“For the clients that we work with, they are trying to get back into the office,” Kuhn said. “Many businesses believe that it’s important to build company culture and community with another by being in person.”
“When COVID hit the mandates and shutdowns were devastating to the small business community, especially retail, service, and hospitality businesses, many of which are my tenants,” said Andy Hicks, owner and president of Tripoint Properties in Downingtown. “Pennsylvania now has one of the highest rates of business closures of any state in the United States. U.S. News and World Report ranks our economy 42nd out of 50.”
“With offices, typically you sign a longer-term lease so it’s like a slow exposure, with office tenants, some have come back some have not and everybody is rethinking their approach. I don’t think the true situation is revealed yet.”
Some office tenants are asking for shorter leases while they decide what to do, he said.
“As far as retail it’s hit and miss. I have a Sherwin Williams that has been able to do a fairly decent business during the pandemic,” said Hicks. “Then I had a kids’ dance studio trying to do kids’ dance classes over the internet. which really hasn’t worked.”
“The surprise is dentist and doctors who have private practices had to shut down and they struggled,” he said. “If we have additional restrictions, it’s going to be hard with them. It’s hit or miss. the hospitality and restaurants have really struggled being shut down…Most recently they are having trouble finding the help to get back open again. We’re seeing a little bit of everything. We haven’t landed yet as to what the final fallout is going to be.”