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Examining the Driving Force Behind Return to Office Policies


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The surge in flexible working policies is poised to reshape the commercial real estate market and the global economy, bringing forth challenges and opportunities.


As businesses embrace remote or hybrid work arrangements, the demand for traditional office space will transform significantly.


This led me to ponder whether the push by employers to bring employees back to the office is directly linked to the financial impact of commitments made by organisations in long-term leases.


Evidence suggests that the push for a return to the office is partly driven by the financial commitments made in long-term real estate leases. Several studies and reports have delved into this connection:


"The Real Reason Why Companies Are Desperately Pushing for People to Return to the Office" by Jack Kelly (Forbes, 2023). This article underscores the financial burden that underutilised office space places on companies, especially those tied to long-term leases. It references data from Moody's Analytics, indicating that office occupancy rates in major U.S. cities remained below 50% in early 2023 despite the push for employees to return to the office.


"Commercial Real Estate Is Behind Your Boss Getting You To Come Back To The Office" by Dana Sitar (GOBankingRates, 2023). This article delves into the financial implications of long-term leases on commercial real estate, particularly in the context of the shift towards remote work. It suggests that companies with extensive real estate portfolios feel the pressure to justify their investments, contributing to the push for employees to return to the office.


"How Long-Term Leases Could Keep Employees at Their Desks for Years to Come" by Rachel Feintzeig (The New York Times, 2022). This article explores companies' challenges in managing long-term real estate leases amidst the changing work landscape. It cites a survey by CBRE, a commercial real estate firm, which found that 72% of companies had signed leases of 10 years or more, indicating a substantial financial commitment to physical office space.


These sources provide evidence that the financial implications of long-term real estate leases are a contributing factor to the push by employers for a return to the office. As companies grapple with underutilised office space and the need to justify their real estate investments, there is an incentive to encourage employees to return to the office, even if remote work arrangements have proven effective.


A study by McKinsey Global Institute predicts that demand for office space in major cities could decline by 13% by 2030 due to the adoption of flexible working policies (McKinsey Global Institute, 2022). This shift could lead to a decline in occupancy rates and rental prices, particularly in central business districts.


However, this shift also presents an opportunity to repurpose underutilised office spaces for other uses, such as coworking facilities, residential units, or community centres. The demand for flexible workspaces, such as coworking spaces and serviced offices, will likely increase as companies seek adaptable solutions for their hybrid workforce.


On a global scale, the reduced need for daily commuting could lead to decreased transportation costs and associated environmental impacts. A study by Global Workplace Analytics estimated that if U.S. employers allowed their employees to work from home half the time, they could save $11,000 per employee per year, translating to an annual savings of $500 billion for U.S. companies (Global Workplace Analytics, 2022).


Flexible work arrangements may also increase employee productivity and satisfaction, potentially boosting overall economic output. A study by Stanford University found that employees who worked from home were 13% more productive than their office-based counterparts (Bloom et al., 2015).


As employees spend less on commuting and office attire, they may have more disposable income for other goods and services, stimulating different sectors of the economy. Additionally, companies may be able to tap into a wider pool of talent by hiring remote workers from other locations, potentially leading to a more geographically dispersed workforce.


The long-term impacts of flexible working policies on the commercial real estate market and the global economy will depend on how companies, individuals, and governments adapt to this evolving landscape. While there may be challenges and disruptions, there are opportunities for innovation, growth, and a more balanced approach to work and life.


Embracing flexible working policies can profoundly and positively impact women and LGBTQ+ individuals, fostering a more inclusive and supportive environment for all. These policies can alleviate the unique challenges faced by women, such as balancing childcare responsibilities with their careers, allowing them to thrive professionally. A study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research found that women with access to flexible work arrangements are more likely to be employed, earn higher wages, and ascend to managerial positions (Hegewisch & Gornick, 2011).


For LGBTQ+ individuals who may face discrimination and prejudice in the workplace, flexible working policies can be a lifeline, creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment. Research by the Human Rights Campaign revealed that LGBTQ+ employees with access to flexible work arrangements experience greater job satisfaction and a reduced likelihood of discrimination (Human Rights Campaign, 2018).


Overall, flexible working policies serve as a powerful tool for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. By empowering employees with greater flexibility and control over their work schedules, we can cultivate a more supportive and inclusive environment where everyone can flourish.


References

  • Bloom, N., Liang, J., Roberts, J., & Ying, Z. J. (2015). Does working from home work? Evidence from a Chinese experiment. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 130(1), 165-218.

  • Global Workplace Analytics. (2022). The 2022 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce. Global Workplace Analytics.

  • McKinsey Global Institute. (2022). The future of work after COVID-19. McKinsey & Company.

  • Hegewisch, A., & Gornick, J. C. (2011). The impact of work-family policies on women's employment: A review of research from OECD countries. Institute for Women's Policy Research.

  • Human Rights Campaign. (2018). A Workplace Divided: Understanding the Climate for LGBTQ Workers Nationwide. Human Rights Campaign Foundation.


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After more than 25 years of dedicated leadership in the corporate, feminist, and LGBTQ+ realms, with a profound commitment to LGBTQ+ and women's rights, I stand ready to support, consult, educate, and advise on your next diversity challenge. Your journey towards inclusivity begins with a conversation. Reach out to me at cynthiafortlage@cynthiafortlage.com with any inquiries.

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