This article was written by Alex Taylor, Senior Business Development Manager for Arlington Economic Development.

As more people around the country receive the COVID-19 vaccine, companies are starting to weigh the many factors impacting a return to the physical office.

While for most of the pandemic focus was on the workforce adapting to working from home, workforce surveys are now starting to reflect what we can expect the new world to look like. Many remote work skeptics have come around to the reality that much of the workforce became more effective during the pandemic. Cutting out commutes and allowing for more time with family were some of the silver linings at-home workers experienced in the past 14 months — and many will cling to these new benefits as companies start calling employees back into the office.

A recent survey from Savills North America found that while 73% of companies expect employees to be in the office at least three days a week, only 4% expect employees to be in the office every day. In other words, flexible work is here to stay.

On the surface, this sounds like bad news for communities reliant on occupied office buildings for tax revenue, particularly as almost 80% of companies surveyed by Savills claimed that at least some employees have been allowed to permanently relocate away from their previously assigned office. Coming out of the pandemic, locations like Arlington could be primed to benefit from an increased focus on amenity-rich environments.

Pre-pandemic, the number one driver for real estate decisions was positioning the office space as a desirable, interactive and engaging environment for employees. That will not change post-pandemic. High-quality amenities like restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, as well as robust transportation infrastructure, will move even higher on the list for companies looking to create a high-quality office environment. Employees that leave their home to travel to work will want the end destination to be fun, vibrant and amenity-rich to make their efforts worthwhile. Arlington has these in spades, but in a pre-pandemic world, companies had to weigh an employee’s commute into office location decisions, often placing the office in the center of an employee residential location heat map.

In a post-pandemic world, where employees are commuting into the office only one to three days a week, being centrally located to employees’ homes becomes of less importance. Companies, instead, can double down on high-quality, engaging offices in vibrant and accessible neighborhoods, with the expectation employees will be willing to make a longer journey knowing it will be less often. Companies that previously bet on bring located inside the beltway to attract the young and highly-educated workforce that resides closer to the city will now be able to double-dip into an additional pool of talented workers who have settled in the region’s suburbs and beyond.

A lot of unknowns still surround the return to the office, but as it draws closer there are reasons to be optimistic that Arlington will continue to be an attractive location to do business in the coming years.

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