When the coronavirus outbreak first erupted and workers were told to pack up their desks and prepare to do their jobs from home, many companies assumed they'd uphold that arrangement for a handful of weeks. Back then, no one could've predicted that 18 months later, a large chunk of the U.S. workforce would still be working remotely.
But alas, here we are. And the kicker? Just a few months ago, it seemed like the remote-work trend was finally starting to reverse.
Earlier this summer, big-name companies started firming up plans to have staff members return to office buildings -- some on a partial basis, and some on a full-time basis. But then, the delta variant hit, and since then, those same companies have had to walk back their plans and postpone their reopenings.
Facebook, for example, is delaying its office return until January of 2022. Apple initially postponed its reopening to October but has since moved it back even further to match Facebook's timeline. And now, it's looking like remote work easily has the potential to last two solid years, which is very bad news for real estate investors who own office real estate investment trusts (REITs).
For office buildings, the pain continues
Office buildings have largely sat vacant since the start of the coronavirus crisis, and at this stage in the game, office REIT investors are getting antsy. Earlier this summer, real estate investors were encouraged by a concrete string of office reopening plans. But even now, it's hard to predict when offices will be able to operate at a reasonable capacity.
And it wouldn't be rash to assume that the companies delaying their reopenings until early 2022 may have to push those timelines back even further once January rolls around.
Now, at this point, it's easy to make the argument that a few more months of vacant office buildings won't be a huge deal in the grand scheme of office-building recoveries. The problem, however, is that the longer that companies uphold remote work, the more used to it they and their employees are likely to become.
Therefore, delayed reopening plans could end up driving more companies to reduce their office footprint and maintain work-from-home setups even once things improve with regard to the COVID-19 outbreak.
It's also worth noting that many companies are delaying their returns to the office, despite having vaccine mandates in place. Part of that may stem from the uptick in breakthrough coronavirus cases among the vaccinated, which has been a byproduct of the recent surge.
However, President Biden recently announced a vaccine mandate for companies with 100 or more employees to either require coronavirus vaccines for employees or implement weekly testing protocols. That alone could lead to not only an uptick in vaccination rates but also safer practices that make returning to office buildings more feasible on a national scale.
The Millionacres bottom line
Right now, employers don't want the liability that comes with forcing workers back to the office at a time when the pandemic is nowhere near under control. So, it certainly won't be shocking if some companies reach the two-year mark of remote work before employees are required to report to their jobs in person again.