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A Third of Remote Office Workers Would Quit Before Returning to an Office: Is CRE Doomed?

[Updated: Apr 15, 2021 ] Apr 15, 2021 by Maurie Backman
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A large number of employees have been doing their jobs remotely for over a year at this point, and the results are mixed. Some are tired of remote work and can't wait to return to an office, where they don't have to spend their days logged into Zoom (NASDAQ: ZM) meetings while staring at the same set of walls.

But for others, remote work has been a positive experience. Not only does working from home generally make for a more flexible schedule, but it also, in many cases, eases the burden of child care. That's been especially important at a time when many school districts have yet to return to full-time in-person learning.

In fact, a recent survey by staffing firm Robert Half reveals that one-third of current remote workers would rather quit their jobs and look for new ones than have to work full-time in an office building again. And that sentiment may have real estate investors worried.

Can office buildings be saved?

Now that so many workers have gotten used to doing their jobs remotely, pulling them back to the office may be a difficult thing. Along these lines, many companies have now had ample time to assess their remote work setups and determine whether employee productivity has waned. In cases where it hasn't, some employers may make the decision to remain remote on a long-term basis and dump their office space for the cost savings involved.

Still, there are plenty of workers -- and employers -- who want to get back to the office. And the number of people doing their jobs remotely has declined since the start of the pandemic. As of January 2021, 56% of U.S. employees were working remotely in some capacity, according to a Gallup poll. But that's a substantial drop from April of 2020, at which point 70% of workers had a remote setup.

Furthermore, now that coronavirus vaccines are more widely available and eligibility has almost entirely opened up to the general public, it'll be easier for more companies to make the case to bring workers back in. In fact, a number of big-name companies, from Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) to Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS), are making plans to bring workers back to the office at some point this year.

As such, office building investors shouldn't lose hope just because a portion of the remote workforce wants things to stay that way. Also, while one-third of remote workers say they'd quit their jobs before returning to an office, making good on that threat is a different story, especially given the estate of the economy and the fact that new jobs aren't exactly abundant.

Of course, what's also likely to happen is that companies will reassess their office space needs and, in many cases, downsize. Similarly, employers may be increasingly willing to adopt more flexible work schedules that allow workers to do their jobs from home part of the time but also come into the office for a portion of the week.

Either way, the demand for office space is not completely going away, and as more companies return to the office, those on the fence may opt to follow their lead. Office building investors should bank on the sector picking up, even if it does take a fair amount of time to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

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Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Maurie Backman has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares) and Zoom Video Communications. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.