When it comes to the future of the American office, Richard Florida has noticed an interesting dynamic taking shape during the recovery from Covid-19.

Florida, an economist, urban studies theorist and author, recalls a 2021 trip to New York — where offices were relatively empty but lines for restaurants stretched down the block at 4:45 p.m.

He also sees packed NBA arenas, opera houses and concerts as the Omicron variant fades.

“The only thing that’s not back is the office,” he said. “That should tell you something.”

Florida, the keynote speaker of The Business Journals‘ upcoming virtual event, The Future of Cities: America’s New Main Streets, said a lot of companies are learning that if they want workers back in the office, they are going to need to entice them there. For many, that will mean thinking beyond physical spaces and focusing on creating human connections, Florida said.

Factors like commute times and distractions are among those elements that could affect employees’ desire to return, Florida said. Ultimately, employers will need to recognize that workplace dynamics and employee expectations have evolved since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, workers have considerably more leverage due to the hiring environment.

“The idea that you’re going to force people to come to an office, plug their laptop into [a] cubicle and sit there for eight hours ain’t happening,” he said. “You’re going to have to have a different office — one that is much more about connectivity.”

Data from property technology company Kastle Systems shows that the average occupancy rate for offices in 10 major U.S. cities still sits at 36.8% of 2019 totals. Experts have said one reason some employers are facing challenges with return plans is that the hybrid environment makes it difficult to forge the type of connections made in pre-pandemic offices. Absent strategic planning that can limit the flexibility employees are craving — such as mandating specific days of the week as in-office days — many workers show up on their onsite days to largely empty offices.

Florida said companies will need to consider programming that gets workers onsite, such as educational offerings, fitness instructors or culinary options.


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