Sep 22, 2020 - Economy

Remote work won't kill your office

Illustration of a desk chair on a welcome mat.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

We can officially declare the 9-to-5, five-days-a-week, in-office way of working dead. But offices themselves aren't dead. And neither are cities.

The big picture: Since the onset of pandemic-induced telework, companies have oscillated between can't-wait-to-go-back and work-from-home-forever. Now, it's becoming increasingly clear that the future of work will land somewhere in the middle — a remote/in-person hybrid.

Surveys conducted in the six months since most people started working from home show that less than 10% of Americans actually want to work remotely all the time, according to a new Barclays analysis.

  • The much more common desire is for flexibility: the option to come to the office a few days a week for meetings and face-to-face time with colleagues.
  • The U.S. workers who have already returned to the workplace are spending half a day less per week there, per Barclays.

And despite the hype around remote work, the share of job postings that are fully remote is just 4%, the report says. It was 2% before the pandemic began.

Still, the longer-term impact of the coronavirus could reduce the need for office space by 10%–20%, Barclays notes. That's a massive shift that will change the way cities and towns across the country look."

The reduction in office spaces will hurt cities' finances," says urbanist Richard Florida. "The decline of the central business district will be painful."

  • "But it's important to disentangle the pandemic's effects on real estate and its effect on cities," he says. Young people will still want to live in urban centers, and, eventually, what used to be office space will be rented by stores or restaurants or art galleries.
  • And fancy Fortune 500 corporate headquarters — 90% of which are located in metro areas with populations of 1.3 million or more — won't disappear either, says Florida. Companies will keep building these campuses and filling them with perks like free food, green space and gyms to attract talent.

Worth noting: As hybrid work looks to be gaining popularity, companies with experience managing all-remote teams say that model can come with problems.

  • "I’ve worked in hybrid settings that have been disasters," says Darren Murph, head of remote work at GitLab, the world's largest all-remote company. Often when firms try to combine the two approaches, they are less intentional about documenting what happens during in-person chats or planning social events that people can join from their remote locations.
  • "It works if you structure the organization as if everyone is remote."

Go deeper: Companies weigh the potential of permanent work-from-home

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