While most businesses that occupy office space in Wilmington and its suburbs have started bringing employees back to their workplace, a large minority — 40% — have not yet set a date for employees to return. That’s according to a new COVID-19 office space survey by Wilmington Alliance and Newmark Knight Frank, a commercial real estate company that releases quarterly office reports.
Of the remaining 60%, companies either started reoccupying their space as early as June, or have selected an upcoming date, many in the summer or early fall.
That’s not to say that office employees in Wilmington can kiss their home office setups goodbye. For most Wilmington companies, reoccupancy means starting with just 25% capacity in the office, with employees rotating between working in the office and at home.
Overall, the results show that, at least while COVID-19 is still communicable, only a small number of office employees are back in the office full time.
“I think we need to take that with a grain of salt,” Wills Elliman, Delaware senior managing director for Newmark Knight Frank, told Technical.ly. “Companies have realized that [working from home] can work, but I think at the same time they’ll see that if you work at home for a long time, you’re going to start losing company culture and collaboration and that kind of thing.”
At some point, especially when it’s safer, it’s expected that there will be more pushback.
“I wonder at what point people will say, ‘No, we actually need to be in the office,” Elliman said.
For now, 38% of those surveyed said they plan to keep a percentage of the workforce work from home for the long term, with the vast majority of those planning for a long-term WFH workforce of more than 25 to 50% of total employees. The majority of those companies are small, but large companies are juggling scaled back capacity in offices and at least some WFH, as well as other safety precautions.
“The Fortune 500s have more risk,” Elliman said. “They need to be so ultra-by-the-book and conservative about how they approach things. It’s going to be a lot of ‘wait and see.’ I don’t think anyone’s in a rush to be on the vanguard of returning to work.”
The results of the survey, which involved 71 major occupiers of offices in Wilmington proper (60), the suburbs (25) or both (6), showed that that 20% of tenants have plans to reduce their overall footprint in the long-term. Only three respondents, all in the city, said they plan to expand their footprint.
Based on the result, it’s estimated that about one in seven employees downtown could remain WFH permanently.
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