Working From Home Is Terrible News for Landlords
Early on in the pandemic, reports of the death of the office appeared greatly exaggerated. But as Covid-19 lingers, and second infection spikes dot the global map, something is changing in how employees and employers view the workplace: It’s being seen as an option rather than a necessity for many white-collar workers.
Once we get the pandemic under control, this shift will be welcomed by cost-cutting companies and staff who dread the daily commute. But for the owners of commercial property — already reeling from the move away from brick-and-mortar retail — the consequences may be severe. The market values of commercial real-estate companies, such as Land Securities Group Plc and British Land Co. Plc, have plummeted.
This isn’t just a question of tech workers at Alphabet Inc., Twitter Inc. or Facebook Inc. taking the relatively straightforward step of doing their stuff from home. All kinds of companies are making the same calculation. Alan Jope, boss of consumer goods giant Unilever, doesn’t see workers ever returning to offices 100%. Swiss bank UBS Group AG says a third of its employees could keep operating from home.
With property being a big business cost, employers would love to cut their space. Burberry Group Plc, a British luxury company, is exploring whether it can save money on its offices outside the U.K.
Analysts at UBS assume that, on average, working one or two days a week at home could become the norm. That would have big implications for office vacancy rates, which have a close correlation to rents. In London’s West End commercial district, for example, more home working — together with an impending recession — could mean the vacancy rate rising from 3.3% in the first quarter of 2020 to just over 10% at the end of the year, according to UBS. It might still be 11.5% in 2022, the bank said.