Keller Augusta Partners

How five South Florida companies are handling the omicron surge

How five South Florida companies are handling the omicron surge

Dec 22, 2021

Some small and medium-sized companies in South Florida that were considering going back to the office have postponed their plans.

South Florida's office market appeared poised for a strong comeback, but the arrival of the omicron variant has some employers second-guessing their return to in-person work.

Luis Gazitua, principal at Jag Insurance Group, has told his 58 employees at the company's Coral Gables office to work remotely for now.

"The well-being of our staff is number one," he said.

Prior to omicron's arrival, Jag operated under a hybrid model, in which employees would split their schedules between working from home and working at the office.

Jag even made a bigger bet on in-office work when it added another 2,000 square feet to its operation at 999 Ponce de Leon Drive, increasing the company's workplace to a total of 10,000 square feet.

"We were able to get better terms on our lease," Gazitua said of the June 1 deal.

He doesn't regret the decision, adding that when his employees are in the office at least part time, "it helps foster a culture of togetherness and teamwork."

"We need that mindset," he said.

Nelson Stabile, a principal of Integra Investments, said his office staff of 35 will continue working out of its downtown Miami office at 150 S.E. 2nd Ave.

"For us, it has brought us back to adhering to the use of masks around the common areas of the office, as well as minimizing meetings in person, but we have not gone back to working remotely," stated Stabile, whose company is co-developing the Starwood Headquarters office building in Miami Beach as well as a mixed-use, live-work project that includes offices in a major project called Aventura Parksquare.

Maureen Shea, CEO of Right Management's Florida/Caribbean Division, said the 45 employees for her employment consulting company have been working remotely since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and will continue doing so. The company twice contemplated going to a hybrid model, in which employees would go to the division's six offices (located in Fort Lauderdale; Miami; Jacksonville; Orlando; Tampa; and San Juan, Puerto Rico) part of the week.

"Then in September, delta hit," Shea said, referring to the previously dominant Covid-19 variant.

Thanks to omicron, the company's plans to return to the office by January have been put on hold, she said.

In the meantime, Right Management opted not to renew its office leases. In Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Right Management uses executive suites and shared office space when needed, she said.

"So much of our resources are online anyway that we don't need a physical location for people to access our resources," she said.
Deana Pizzo, founder and CEO of I.T. Solutions of South Florida in Lake Worth Beach, said her office is under quarantine after two employees, one of whom is her son, recently tested positive for Covid-19.

Prior to that, I.T. Solutions' staff of 20 worked in the office three days a week and at home two days a week. Pizzo said her company will probably return to that model in around a month.

"We will just play it by ear," she said.

Kate Keller, principal of Keller Augusta, a commercial real estate firm with offices in New York, Boston, and Palm Beach, said an employee in her New York office also tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

She noted that in New York, "everything is canceled" due the virus's resurgence, so she's returning early to South Florida.

"It is pretty rampant in both places [South Florida and New York] compared to other parts of the country," Keller said.

Keller said that her company of 15 employees, five in each office, have been working in person at least part-time since last September, when vaccines became available.

"After the holidays in January [2022], we will assess where things stand," she said.

Keller, though, isn't ready to give up on having employees work in the office part-time in thelong term.

"It is important for us to be together," she said. "We're team-oriented. Collaborative."

Keller and other local business operators aren't likely to be subjected to shutdown orders from state officials in response to the virus's latest wave.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued executive orders against Covid-19 mandates, including business shutdowns. DeSantis' administration even challenged regulations by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to require companies with more than 100 employees to have their employees vaccinated or give weekly Covid tests to employees who aren't fully vaccinated. On Dec. 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit opted not to hear the case.

DeSantis has vowed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.