The top of the workplaces? New York’s enterprise districts face an unsure future

Boarded up shops, shuttered restaurants and empty office towers: Covid-19 has turned New York City’s famous business districts into ghost towns and companies have been trying to find ways to entice workers to return after the pandemic.

“If they don’t come back, we’ll go under,” said Kenneth McClure, vice president of Hospitality Holdings, whose midtown bistro pre-coronavirus hummed with the sound of financiers doing business at lunch and sharing cocktails after a busy day.

The group has closed its six Manhattan restaurants and bars, two of them due to lockdown restrictions that have disrupted office culture – a culture as peculiar to the Big Apple as a Broadway show, a yellow cab, or a slice of cheese pizza.

“Customers you saw three, four, five times a week have practically disappeared,” McClure told AFP, recalling March of last year when the pandemic first hit New York, where more than 26,000 People were killed.

According to the security firm Kastle Systems, only 14 percent of New York’s more than one million office workers had returned to their desks by mid-January, putting the myriad sandwich shops and small businesses in Midtown and Wall Street at risk.

With the introduction of vaccines, companies and executives are struggling to win back employees after working from home for most of a year and thus preserve the character of business districts.

79 percent of employees polled in a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey published earlier this month said remote working had been a success. However, the report also noted that offices will not go down in history.

Around 87 percent of employees said the office is important for them to work with team members and build relationships. Aspects of working life were easier and more rewarding for them personally than with Zoom.

“When I’m here, seeing my co-workers and walking out of the house, my mood changes for the whole week,” said Jessica Lappin, speaking with AFP from her office at Alliance for Downtown New York, where she is president.

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Few workers plan to be in offices Monday through Friday from nine to five.

“The vast majority of employees say a hybrid system of two to three days from home and two to three days in the office is their preferred approach,” said Deniz Caglar, co-author of the PwC report.

Experts say companies should transform their offices from places where employees email or make phone calls, which they can do at home, to more engaging spaces for mentoring, camaraderie, and creativity.

– ‘New Future’ –

That could mean bigger, more flexible conference rooms instead of booths, something as simple as better furnishings, outdoor space like a balcony or terrace, and “hoteling” where employees plan to use a work area instead of each employee having their own desk .

“Imagine a theater where you have different sets for different scenes,” David Smith, co-author of a Cushman & Wakefield report on Future Workplaces, told AFP.

It may also mean offices are becoming more versatile – facilities like gyms, cafes, laundromats, and concierge services that make employees feel the commute is worth it – and accelerating a trend that increased before the coronavirus, experts say.

Several large employers are offering flexibility to their employees and doubling their commitment to offices. They are betting heavily on New York’s business districts despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

In August, Facebook signed a lease for a 730,000-square-foot space in Midtown, while a Google spokesman told AFP that the tech giant is continuing to expand its campus in the Chelsea neighborhood.

Greenberg Traurig, a 400-employee law firm in New York, has installed sneeze guards, touchless faucets, hand sanitizers, improved ventilation and remote workstations.

The company will be “on rotation” and the company plans to continue moving to a new state-of-the-art building near Grand Central Station this year, Vice Chairman Robert Ivanhoe told AFP.

In late December, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo cut the ribbon on a new $ 1.6 billion train concourse serving Penn Station, underscoring the hopes of local politicians to revitalize Midtown.

Business district officials say they are trying to add green space to the neighborhoods, while alfresco dining – which is extremely rare in New York before the pandemic – is expected to be a staple.

“There is definitely an opportunity for everyone to look to the new future,” Alfred Cerullo, president of the Grand Central Partnership Business Improvement Group, told AFP.

pdh / ch

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