Will Daily Commutes Ever Return?

September 29, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a nation of remote workers. But how do you get workers to return to the office? This has become an increasing challenge for many companies.

Coen van Oostrom, CEO of the real estate company Edge, says commercial companies likely will need to adapt and upgrade their work environments to persuade workers to return.

“You have to basically seduce your people to come into the office and work there instead of from home,” van Oostrom said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Monday. “We believe that it will be the end of the large batteries of people working on a big floor, side to side, even with screens in between. There’s no real need for that any more; you can do your work everywhere. … We believe that the office will be the place that you get together, where the culture is being built, where new people are being brought in and can learn and understand the way things are done in a company, but to do so you have to have a work environment that is amazing.”

Van Oostrom predicts the workplace could become more like a “clubhouse,” where employees come in for about two days per week and work from home on the other days. But he believes workers who opt to work from home permanently and exclusively could miss out in the future, and over a five- to 10-year span could see their jobs outsourced.

“If you’re not part of the inner circle of a company and invited to come to that clubhouse, then you’re going to have a very difficult time,” van Oostrom told CNBC.

Design could help workers feel more comfortable in returning to the office. For example, extra staircases could help people avoid the elevator when moving from floor to floor. Air quality sensors may also help ease concerns. Public health officials say one of the simplest ways to prevent the spread of germs indoors is to increase the volume of outside air that comes into buildings. Just cracking a window can help, NPR reports. However, many office buildings have windows that can't be opened, and the trend in recent years has been to create a tight air seal in buildings to make them more energy-efficient. Architects are now trying to find ways to increase outdoor ventilation in a COVID-19 world without also accelerating energy consumption.