When the coronavirus outbreak first hit, many employers did the responsible thing: They told their employees to pack up their desks and start working remotely until it was safe to return to the office. More than a year later, many of those people who shifted to remote work in February or March 2020 are still, in fact, doing their jobs from home.
That's got office REIT (real estate investment trust) investors nervous. A number of large office REITs have lost value in the course of the pandemic -- notably, those with large concentrations of properties in once-booming markets like New York City. And the longer the remote work trend holds steady, the more office REITs are likely to suffer.
But there may be good news on the horizon. A number of Wall Street firms are already making plans to bring workers back to the office. And that could end up sparking a very positive trend.
Wall Street wants to get back to business as usual
A number of big-name financial firms have had enough of remote work, and now that coronavirus vaccines are rolling out, they're making it clear they expect employees to primarily work from office buildings once they can make that happen safely.
At JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM), hundreds of interns will begin working in the company's New York offices in the coming months. Citigroup (NYSE: C) is providing workers with rapid coronavirus tests as it maps out a plan to bring more people back in. And Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) hopes to have more employees working in person by the summer.
Now, this isn't the first time Wall Street has tried to lure workers back to the office. Last fall, some firms attempted to get bankers and traders to return when coronavirus cases began declining and New York City started loosening some restrictions. But then winter came, and with it, the outbreak intensified, killing those plans. Not surprisingly, as of March 3, 2021, only 14.5% of New York-area office workers were back to their respective buildings, according to data from security company Kastle Systems.
But things are different this time around. Vaccines are not only available but more abundant than they were even a month prior. And that could be a huge driving factor in getting people back to the office.
Some office building landlords are also rolling out coronavirus testing programs. These, combined with vaccines, should make it easier -- and safer -- to bring workers back in.
The Millionacres bottom line
Of course, there are still some variables Wall Street firms will need to contend with as they attempt to bring back the bulk of their staff. For one thing, some employees may still lack access to childcare, depending on what their local school districts are doing, and in the absence of firm plans for the fall, some workers may not be able to commit to returning to the office. But for the most part, Wall Street's attitude toward in-person work is a positive thing for office REITs and the people who invest in them.