Revitalizing Urban Economies by Returning to the Office: The Case of the National Capital

Getting back to the office is a key to recovering from the pandemic. This is especially the case in urban areas, where downtown life – known as central business districts (CBD) – is a cultural and economic hub. There are three “losers” of hybrid work: public transport, catering and CBD. These represent the backbone of cityscapes.

The office occupancy rate is well below pre-pandemic levels around the world. For example, New York City is 52% below, London 42%, Singapore 21%, and Frankfurt 20%.

But, understand this: The Washington Post reports that less than 25 percent of Washington, DC employees have returned to the office. The nation’s capital, teeming with quality museums, clubs and restaurants, and 24 million visitors from around the world each year, only has one in four people back in the office? It is not sustainable.

The DC metro area is coming back to office more slowly than other international urban areas. Despite the unpredictable nature of COVID-19, local authorities are pushing for a safe return to office buildings, hoping these employees will resurrect stagnant economic sectors such as retail and hospitality.

After working remotely from kitchen tables and basement playrooms for 20 months, returning to the office represents a significant lifestyle change. Employees no longer connect work and office, posing a challenge for employers. A recent COVID-19 Snapshot survey of metro employers in Washington, Baltimore, and Richmond found workers shy about the pandemic and fears about variants delayed the return to CBD.

Employers expect the return to be slower than expected. Respondents expect 68% of employees to be in the office by summer 2022. Thirty-eight percent of employers believe the number of employees teleworking will decline while about half expect that it stays the same.

The need to bring hundreds of thousands of workers back to downtown DC is critical to fueling the city’s unprecedented growth over the past two decades. Commuters have been a vital component of the nation’s capital, which is seeing its daily net population increase by 78%, the highest among U.S. cities, according to the Census Bureau.

Mayor of DC Muriel bowserMuriel BowserDC homicide level highest since 2003 Pentagon Watchdog Raises Questions About Retired DC Guard Commander Jan. 6 The Hill’s Morning Report – Brought to you by ExxonMobil – Democrats House Consider Important Vote on Biden Measure implemented a full return to office for city workers on July 12, 2021. This was part of their three-step process to bring workers back to the city. This move demonstrated his commitment to deploying city employees to help revive DC’s business community and economy.

Like other urban areas, the opening of DC offices will depend on factors that have professional, personal, institutional and economic consequences. “The need to balance employee flexibility with organizational productivity has led companies to explore hybrid work models, which allow employees to work from the desk or virtually. Their approach is to rethink how, when and where we work, ”according to“ The Next Normal, ”a guide from CBRE, the commercial real estate investment and services company.

As the region’s largest employer, the federal government directs workforce policies in the region. Each government agency submitted reintegration plans in the summer of 2021, ranging from a full return to telecommuting to a combination. Some have pledged to reopen faster than others.

“The operational status of the federal government nationwide remains” Open with maximum telework flexibilities for all current employees eligible for telework, as directed by agency heads. ” Other changes to the state of functioning of the government, in accordance with the most recent orientations and principles set out by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], will continue to be communicated to agencies by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, ”according to a White House memo to agency and department heads.

The flexibility displayed by the federal government leaves local businesses wondering how to reinvigorate themselves when the largest employer has not returned. Activation of DC’s CBD depends on an influx of office workers. Food Trucks, bars and restaurants, street shops, sporting events and quite simply entertainment depend on their presence. Commuters spend, on average, about $ 127 per week each in the city. And that translates into jobs, retail profits, and tax revenues, each of which has seen dramatic declines in 2020.

Last spring, a group of local businesses, the Federal City Council (FC2), called on private employers to commit to returning to the office as soon as possible. “Many small businesses that your employees used to frequent may not survive unless this foot traffic eventually returns,” wrote Anthony Williams, former mayor and CEO of FC2.

Is it difficult for employers to commit to a certain date? Capital One Financial, the McLean, Va.-Based financial firm that is one of the region’s largest employers, has postponed plans for returning employees to office work for the third time this year, until 2022. The World Bank is expected to have 50 percent of its DC staff in person at its headquarters starting in January, as is the International Monetary Fund. But the two dates are floating.

Some employers in the district are seeing workers returning to work. The 14 hospitals and health systems in the district have forced all staff and clinical team members – around 30,000 people – to return to their places of work. Higher education seems to be making a comeback. Two of the district’s largest employers, Georgetown University and George Washington University, saw their staff and students fully return to campus in September.

Professional service firms such as law firms are an important segment of the DC economy. Most of them use a mixed or hybrid model to bring employees back to the office. A study found that 54.5% of regional law firms were busy and a number of firms announced their return in 2022, including Cooley LLP, Baker & Hostetler and Gibson Dunn.

As DC executives await the return of employees to the CBD, they grapple with the impact of the slow homecoming on the city’s economy, as well as the effect on employees, their families and their families. well-being. The pandemic has taught everyone that jobs are more fungible than previously thought, and employees have the flexibility to choose their next step.

The question is, will people want to return downtown full time to resume their professional lives and help rebuild the financial fortunes of their businesses and communities? In this sense, returning to the office is an act of urban renewal and citizenship, carrying the promise of a vibrant urban life.

James R. Bailey is Professor of Leadership Development at the George Washington University School of Business. He is the author of five books and hundreds of articles, and the founder and editor of Lessons on Leadership. Follow him on twitter @ProfJamesBailey.

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