COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations are down, business regulations are minimal, kids are back in school, and President Joe Biden has suggested that the pandemic is over, creating what employers are touting as the perfect storm for employees to return to the office.
“While there is still an element of uncertainty and it varies based on each company, more employees are returning to the office than not,” Bob Thagard, executive managing director of the Irvine office of Cushman & Wakefield, told the Business Journal.
Orange County’s largest office landlord is certainly seeing the uptick.
Newport Beach-based Irvine Co. said it has seen an influx of employees returning to their offices following Labor Day weekend, reporting a double-digit increase throughout its Southern California portfolio, officials said.
Due to the high volume of personal COVID-19 testing that’s taken place over the past year—much of which is unreported—and the lag in time it takes to report deaths, the Business Journal uses hospitalizations as a measure of the virus’ current prevalence in the county.
The number of Orange County individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 is down more than half from the recent peak seen in July, to about 150 patients. Overall, hospitalizations have been on the decline since the 2022 peak of 1,232 hospitalizations in January; that peak was off about 50% from the all-time peak of 2,260 hospitalizations seen the year prior.
Those improving figures, coupled with increased employee confidence and a drop in regulations, has prompted a return to the office for U.S. employees in the past month after being in a wait-and-see mode for more than two years.
Between Sept. 8 and Sept. 14, average office use was nearly 48% of pre-pandemic levels, marking the highest percentage since late-March 2020, according to Kastle Systems, which uses office keycard and key fob data from 2,600 buildings and 41,000 businesses across 47 states to identify return-to-office trends.
Flex Amenities Preferred
Irvine-based RiverRock Real Estate Group, OC’s fifth-largest property manager, has returned to the office on a hybrid schedule, with employees in the office at least three days of the week.
“The flexible schedule is great to have, and we see it as an ongoing value opportunity for us,” President Steve Core told the Business Journal.
Employers currently operating a remote workforce may need to mandate employees to return to the office as many industries face economic headwinds.
“The impending downturn in the market will put employers in a position to bring people back in person,” Core said.
Irvine architecture firm MVE + Partners has also returned to the office for three days of the week, a move that has been received well by the company’s 60 local employees.
“We recently brought the office back on a hybrid basis, and that’s been working really well for us,” Chief Financial Officer David Woodruff said.
“Many of us were getting weary from the lack of personal collaboration, which is vital in our industry. It’s been great to reconnect and get back to business.”
Alteryx Inc. (NYSE: AYX), which employs 350 in OC, moved into its new headquarters at the Spectrum Terrace office campus over the summer, and has since implemented “Together Tuesdays” to encourage everyone to be in the office on the same day. Employees are in the Irvine office on a hybrid basis, officials note.
“We do have a flexible working model. We see that there is a lot of value in people coming together, especially when you build facilities like this,” President Paula Hansen told the Business Journal during a visit to the new offices in August. “We recommend to our workforce that Tuesday is a day that everyone come into the office.”
Returning to an in-person workforce has helped with collaboration and culture, Hansen said.
“You should come into the office for moments that matter, when collaboration is important, when relationships are important,” she said.
Soon to also be at Spectrum Terrace is Apple, which signed a full-building lease at the Irvine Co. campus early this year. The tech giant has set a companywide office return deadline of Sept. 5 after delaying that return several times following variant outbreaks.
Companies are seeking “premium workspaces that draw people in and contribute to their success,” Irvine Co. said in a statement.
The firm—California’s largest office landlord with some 53 million square feet of office space here, much of it in Orange County—says it has leased more than 10.4 million square feet of office space in California from September 2021 to August 2022 to more than 1,000 companies. The first two phases of Spectrum Terrace are fully leased, with the third and final phase expected to deliver next month.