The Return to In-Person Work May Happen Sooner Than Many Think

As we enter the month of March, it marks a full year since the start of shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic.  For most, the past year has involved much social distancing, including many businesses being forced to adopt work-from-home measures to keep employees safe.  Now, a whole year later, these same businesses are beginning to set in motion plans to return to the office and resume in-person work.

This look to return-to-office plans is due in part to declining coronavirus cases and increased availability of vaccinations.  However, in many states, these vaccinations are not yet widely available.  Further, some employees are hesitant to be vaccinated at all, citing uncertainty of the long-term effects of the vaccine.  These variables are the cause of much concern, as the most important variable in reopening offices is how long it will take for the majority of employees to be vaccinated.

Also of concern is the children of the employees who will return to work.  As of the time of this article, many schools have not yet reopened, and those that have are not allowing students to attend every day of the week.  For parents of younger children, the ability to work from home has allowed them to keep an eye on their children while also getting work done.  Forcing these parents to go back to the office would provide an issue for those whose children are not yet old enough to stay home alone, and unable to attend school in person.

When asked about the plans to return, a number of people have expressed concern for the aforementioned reasons.  Due to this many companies have not yet committed to a specific strategy for bringing employees back to work, and have not provided a potential timeline for workers to return. 

Currently, about a quarter of employees in the United States are working in the office according to Kastle Systems, an office security company providing data from about 3,600 businesses. 

Companies that are presently renting empty offices are hoping that these numbers will increase in upcoming months so as to mitigate further losses spent on unused office space.  These increases could not come at a better time, as the increase in the number of empty office spaces have led to a sharp decline in the value of commercial properties, as many small employers have chosen to stop renting office space that they can no longer afford.  But this presents an issue as well for the owners of these properties, as they try to figure out what to do with this unused space.

In the meantime, these property owners seek to contest their tax bills by filing appeals in 2021.  Because their storefronts are sitting vacant, property owners hope to see assessed values reduced.  In some instances, the property owners have seen success, with assessed values being reduced by millions of dollars after challenging their assessments, seeing tax bills that were lowered by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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