Baltimore Sun: Employees at some Baltimore businesses are finally heading back to the office, but many will keep working from home

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By Lorraine Mirabella
April 9, 2021

Now, as more people get inoculated for COVID-19 and businesses and schools start bringing people back, a return to normal seems almost within reach. Even so, the workplace for millions may never be the same.

Experts agree that for white-collar workers at least, the workplace won’t resemble the one they hastily vacated in 2020. Many thought the closings might last a couple of weeks; instead, it dragged on.

COVID-19 sparked a “global experiment in large-scale and long-term remote work,” according to researchers at Cornell University’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, who say it proved more productive and efficient than many employers expected.

As a result, experts expect remote working to continue and expand with technological advances and more allowances for worker flexibility. That will allow office space to be used for teams rather than individuals.

Many employers are rethinking work models for the longer term. Some companies are reconfiguring office space and preparing employees for the transition as they begin to return some workers to offices.

What happens has implications across the economy from commercial real estate in office centers like downtown Baltimore to apparel sales and business travel.

A survey by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore found that 65% of downtown office workers wanted to return to their offices, at least some days of the week, by September, said Shelonda Stokes, the advocacy group’s president.

“The future is hybrid,” she said. “We know that the new normal will be different, and that people will not use office space the same.”

Concerns about downtown office vacancies predate the pandemic, though the public health crisis did accelerate and exacerbate the worrying trend of companies moving away from the business district, Stokes said.

Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said he expects most companies to bring their employees back to offices, though in a staggered fashion. He said some commercial spaces may be converted to new uses or physically modified to accommodate what the new, post-pandemic workforce looks like, causing some “disruption” for the area.

“The future of the central business district is still strong,” Fry said. “We just need to give it more attention to make sure it can be more competitive with other business hubs.”

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Source: The Baltimore Sun

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