05/10/2022 | by Sarah Borchersen-Keto

Although a return to the office has started in earnest, it will take the rest of 2022 to take hold, and even longer before clear patterns of usage emerge, says Julie Whelan, global head of occupier research at CBRE.

Speaking on the REIT Report, Whelan said it will likely be 2023 “before we can really start to hang our hat on trends that we can say are stable [in order] to build assumptions about what new work patterns are going to look like.”

Whelan described current office usage as “muted…but the good news is that it’s picking up.” Some of the Southern states have seen a higher return to office rate, although in the past week New York and Washington, D.C. actually saw some of the biggest gains, she noted.

One of the biggest factors enticing workers back to the office at this time is the presence of fellow workers, Whelan said. “Nobody wants to go into the office to sit on Zoom all day with those that aren't in the office.” The biggest factor keeping workers away is the commute. “Many have taken the hours that they previously used to commute into the office, and they've replaced that time with other personal and professional activities that they aren't really necessarily willing to trade easily back,” she said.

Whelan’s other observations included:

  • CBRE’s Spring Occupier Sentiment Survey of 185 companies found that 73% of respondents are welcoming employees back under a hybrid work arrangement.
  • Organizations are taking time to study and analyze the return to office and space use patterns, which will lead to new design principles.
  • The CBRE survey showed that more than half of respondents want to significantly increase their use of flexible office space over the next few years.
  • Employees have a desire to work for companies that have a purpose, “and that is not going to go away anytime soon.”
  • Tenants are “voting with their feet right now,” with resilience evident in the highest quality end of the office market. “There’s a lot of recovery happening in that end of the market.” CBRE also anticipates redevelopment or adaptive reuse in lower quality office space to help satisfy the need for multifamily and industrial space.