Back to the Office in a Post Pandemic World

Many thought that it would never happen – going back to the office.  Numerous people have enjoyed the last year – finding time for other things, seeing children, family, getting in shape and taking up new hobbies. While it has been fun to explore these new adventures, in many cases it has not been ideal for creating the most efficient work environment.  There have also been challenges – knowing when to turn-off the computer, lack of interaction with others, collaborating with team members on projects, and teaching younger associates.  One individual who works for a national appraisal company indicated that their company is struggling with training and reported that associate development was “six months behind.”

For someone who started a company during the last financial crisis, I have found that working from home is “Ok” sometimes, but not necessarily all the time. For a high productivity environment going forward, a hybrid model seems to be the likely outcome for many workplaces. Overall, we have concluded that having employees in the office is better for:

  • Team Building-Training
  • Company Culture
  • Human Interaction-Connection
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration & Decision Making

SSA’s experience is like an interview I recently watched with Jamie Dimon at JP Morgan Chase.  He indicated that he was going to cancel all future Zoom meetings and had found that time recently spent with a host of different groups across the board – tech, investors, private equity, etc. was universally more effective in person.  He also indicated that he had met with some customers and learned that JP Morgan had lost some business to competitors.  The reason given for the loss? – the competition came to visit. Based on a recent directive from Jamie Dimon at Chase – employees will be back in the office on a part-time basis on May 17th and it is anticipated that everyone will be back full time by September.

Dimon stated, “Most professionals learn their job through an apprenticeship model, which is almost impossible to replicate in the Zoom world.” The CEO expressed his concern, “Over time, this drawback could dramatically undermine the character and culture [of the company.]” Additionally, relying too much upon “Zoom meetings actually slows down decision making because there is little immediate follow-up.” With remote work, there is an absence of “spontaneous learning and creativity because you don’t run into people at the coffee machine, talk with clients in unplanned scenarios or travel to meet with customers and employees for feedback on your products and services.” 

While the work from home experiment was necessary and for many an appealing option, it has had its drawbacks. Many companies are currently evaluating the options ranging from fully remote to hybrid models to bringing their employees back to the office full time. While some big technology companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter foresee large numbers of employees working from home permanently, things look rather different at Google and additionally in the world of banking and finance. Banks like Chase, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America have been eager to bring workers back into the office, concerned that “an extended period of working from home would hurt the training, camaraderie and work culture that develop when people are together”. With return-to-work policies now being implemented across America, it represents a golden opportunity for real estate investors and lenders to opportunistically evaluate local markets and achieve superior returns given the present market uncertainty in Commercial Real Estate.

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