As New York City's economy reels from the effects of COVID-19, many wonder if the city may never recover. Hundreds of millions of square feet of Manhattan office space sit vacant, awaiting the return of workers who might decide they prefer working at home, at least part of the time. Businesses may conclude that remote work is more feasible than they once thought, and cut back on the amount of office space they rent.
This isn't actually a new trend. For years, businesses have been seeking to use their Manhattan office space more efficiently, converting to open office layouts and cutting down on private offices. Ultimately, this is good for the city's economy. If businesses lower their costs, they can pass some of those savings on to customers, increasing revenues and profits simultaneously, which in turn means more jobs and more new businesses. Over time, more people will be working in the same amount of office space.
There are plenty of reasons to work from home: Not commuting adds hours to the day and makes childcare more manageable, and true telecommuters can live in low-cost areas where housing is cheapest. However, workers also have reasons to be at the office: to access other employees' expertise, exchange ideas, and develop closer professional contacts. And companies may feel some employees are better trained and supervised at the workplace. These factors will make many businesses reluctant to give up a physical workspace.
Eric Kober is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He retired in 2017 as director of housing, economic and infrastructure planning at the New York City Department of City Planning. Follow him on Twitter here.
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