Keller Augusta Partners

Delta Variant Delaying South Florida's Return to Office, But Real Estate Sector Unlikely to 'Work From Home Forever'

Delta Variant Delaying South Florida's Return to Office, But Real Estate Sector Unlikely to 'Work From Home Forever'

Sep 9, 2021

"The higher overall percentage of those vaccinated, the less destructive the office environment will be,” said Kaitlin Kincaid of real estate recruiting firm Keller Augusta.

South Florida has seen more than a million cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, with the state averaging 16,000 new cases every day, according to data from the New York Times. As the Delta variant continues to be the dominant strain, real estate professionals say local companies are altering their return-to-office plans.

The goal for most companies is to get input from employees about how comfortable they are with returning to work. And although many companies received feedback and applied it earlier in the year, Keller Augusta senior managing director Kaitlin Kincaid said her clients are putting their plans on pause. The real estate recruiting firm has offices in Palm Beach, New York and Boston.

“We have heard of companies putting a hold on going back to the office, going back to masks and asking their employees to become vaccinated, and then we’ve had others that say, ‘We have to move on from here and go back to the office,’” Kincaid said.

Although South Florida’s infection rates are high, more of its businesses stayed in the office compared to other regions around the country. Many postponed returns are slated to finally happen in October, but if that plan changes, Kincaid said companies will give employees 30 days’ notice.

Avoiding employee burnout

Many employees do want to return to the office but don’t want to go back to how things were before the pandemic, according to Kincaid. Those who are hesitant have reported either being afraid of getting sick, enjoying working from home or wanting to avoid a downtown commute.

“As long as their company is going to stand by the protocols that they’ve put in place, they miss the mentorship and collaboration. In real estate, it’s hard to think of work-from-home forever when the office sector is such a big part of the asset classes,” Kincaid said.

A possible challenge Kincaid foresees is employee burnout while trying to maintain high productivity levels. For working parents, working from home even part time can make a day seem much longer when juggling child care.

“I think people have looked at their benefits and are making sure that they have the best-in-class medical benefits. There’s been a big focus on wellness with the return-to-office plan. From a benefits standpoint, there is no set vacation policy, and I think that hasn’t been as successful as people thought. I think making a clearly defined vacation schedule and really encouraging your teams to take that time to decompress will help,” Kincaid said.

Mandating vaccines for new hires?

Some return-to-office tweaks that companies could consider include allowing for more flexibility, appointments, exercise time, and school pickups and drop-offs. As safety remains at the forefront of minds, some companies are even mandating that new hires are vaccinated and filtering out candidates who are not.

“They want people to come back to a safe environment, and the vaccination piece is pretty critical. The higher overall percentage of those vaccinated, the less destructive the office environment will be,” Kincaid said.

But according to a research brief by Marcus & Millichap, requiring new hires to be vaccinated could make the hiring process even longer since it’s an additional step.

Another challenge is finding people willing to work, as health concerns slowed hiring in August, according to the brief. The employment base is 3.5% below what it was before the pandemic, and a rise in job openings indicates a consistent labor shortage, particularly in the hospitality sector and high-contact service roles.

Many companies have increased wages to try to incentivize potential employees, but the added labor costs have caused commercial tenants to reevaluate space needs, according to Jonathon Kingsley of Colliers South Florida.

Chewy, an online pet retailer that recently leased a Class A office in Plantation, has an indoor-outdoor center for its employees to create an openness that allows people to still feel comfortable while social distancing.

“The amenity aspect, like having comfortable areas for employees to lounge in office buildings, whether it’s bringing lounge areas that are spaced properly instead of sitting at a desk or in a small lunchroom, they’re having an open office where they’re not sitting on top of each other. Fitness centers are certainly becoming very popular,” Kingsley said. “We’re seeing multiple conference rooms so you can have a few people in a small group for a Zoom or team call.”

During the pandemic and beyond, Kingsley said he believes companies will continue to think of new ways to evaluate their office space.