Only 8 Percent of Manhattan Workers Heading Into the Office Full-Time

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Remote work is here to stay with only 8 percent of Manhattan office employees commuting to their workspaces five days a week, according to a new survey from the Partnership for New York City.

The survey, which polled 160 major employers in Manhattan in late April, also found that nearly 80 percent of the companies plan on using a hybrid model of work when the pandemic ends compared to the 6 percent that did so before COVID-19. 

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“I was shocked that we had gone to 78 percent of employers saying they intended to embrace a hybrid work model,” Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership, told Commercial Observer “That’s a quantum leap. … I would have thought that it was a lower number — that they were waiting to decide in the fall perhaps what was going to be their model.”

Companies’ preference for hybrid work comes even after firms and landlords have trotted out amenities like golf simulators, dog day cares and cafès in an attempt to lure employees back into office towers — occasionally trading valuable space to do so. Those efforts may not be in vain as the Partnership’s survey predicted about half of staffers will be expected back in their Manhattan offices on an average weekday in September, compared to about 38 percent today. 

Most staffers come to the office two or three days a week, and 28 percent are fully remote, according to the report. 

One way to encourage in-person work might be peer pressure, since 32 percent of employers surveyed indicated that if their fellow businesses headed back into the office, they would too. But most cited public safety and the presence of people experiencing homelessness on the subway and streets as an obstacle to in-person work, which Mayor Eric Adams has attempted to remove by destroying homeless encampments and criminalizing sleeping on trains. The policy, similar to one instituted by former Mayor Bill de Blasio, has resulted in just 39 people heading to the city’s shelter system even after 710 encampment sweeps by city officials, Gothamist reported.

Wylde praised Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul’s decisions to increase the number of police at subway stops, remove encampments, increase funding for homeless services and open more supportive housing beds. Getting people to feel safe on the subway system is a bit of a Catch-22 — more weekday commuters would make train cars feel busier and less dangerous, but staffers don’t want to return before they feel safe, Wylde said.

“If conditions in the city and on the subways improve, I think we’ll see less resistance among employees to coming back,” Wylde said. “I say [that], because the nurses and doctors have to come back, subway workers and restaurant workers have to come back, so do you. But I’m in the minority right now.”

Real estate, the industry with the most to lose if in-person office attendance declines, had the highest average daily attendance in April at 82 percent, with law, tech, media, consulting and financial service firms seeing between 40 and 46 percent of workers at their cubicles on an average day. The return to work has been slowest among firms with more than 5,000 employees compared to smaller companies, the survey found.

The real estate industry does have some reason to worry, with 22 percent of firms expecting to reduce their office footprint compared to 18 percent planning on expanding it. For the most part, firms are planning to keep their square footage the same, and 29 percent simply don’t know their future plans, according to the survey. 

Only 38 percent of their employers will continue to require vaccinations if government mandates are lifted, and some firms have begun to hire unvaccinated workers again despite a backlash against the practice from health care workers and staffers fired for not getting their shots.

Update: This story has been updated to include comments from Kathryn Wylde.

Celia Young can be reached at cyoung@commercialobserver.com.