Lodi News-Sentinel

Hybrid the new normal? Workers are back but only a few days a week

- Roger Vincent

People are going back to the office. Not in the same everyday slog they did before the pandemic, but many are back at least a few days a week.

In-office presence varies by industry in Los Angeles County, with tech and entertainm­ent-related businesses in the forefront, but the easing of pandemic safety restrictio­ns in early March has clearly led to an increase in work getting done at the office instead of at home, landlords said.

"Since the mask mandate was lifted, we have seen almost a doubling of daily office population­s," said John Barganski of Brookfield Properties, the largest office landlord in downtown Los Angeles. "That seemed to be the impetus for people to say, 'Let's go.'"

Levels of office population­s vary among types of businesses, categories of buildings and even the size of companies, with large employers more likely to be back at the office than small ones. But there is one constant: Most people still aren't going to the office daily because their companies are concocting schedules that allow them to work remotely some of the time.

"Everybody has some version of a hybrid model where it isn't necessaril­y five days a week" at the office, Barganski said. "But there are people in our buildings every day, at a much greater magnitude than we've experience­d throughout the COVID-19 pandemic."

The population in Brookfield's downtown buildings has reached about 50% of what it was before the pandemic, he said.

Average office population in the country's largest metro areas has been up and down with COVID-19 surges. According to Kastle Systems, which provides key-card entry systems used by many companies and tracks patterns of workers' card swipes, the average population hit a low of 14.6% in mid-April 2020. Last week it was at nearly 43%, with Los Angeles slightly below average at 41%, the highest figure yet during the pandemic.

In a sign that many employers plan to keep people working together, office leasing was fairly steady in the first quarter. Real estate brokerage CBRE reported a net gain of more than 500,000 square feet of leased space in Los Angeles County as some companies expanded their office footprints.

Companies are often returning to the office without making public proclamati­ons about it, landlord Victor Coleman said, perhaps because they blew through previous announced returns as new surges of the pandemic thwarted vows to return after last Labor Day and then after the Christmas holidays.

Larger companies have generally been more aggressive about returning to the office than smaller ones, said Coleman, chief executive of Hudson Pacific Properties, a Los Angeles office landlord and developer. Hudson Pacific owns more than 50 office buildings on the West Coast, along with three movie studios in Hollywood.

Among its large tenants are tech and entertainm­ent companies, including search engine Google, streaming service Netflix and video game giant Riot Games, where employees recently returned to a Tuesday-through-Thursday work schedule in the office. Rioters, as they call themselves, can also come in on Mondays and Fridays if they want to.

The Riot team was surprising­ly adept at working remotely, President Dylan Jadeja said, which was a tribute to their resiliency but raised many challenges and wasn't the optimum way for the company to operate.

"Strategica­lly, we felt that the collaborat­ion model, the creativity that we needed in our business and the spirit of our company necessitat­ed in-office culture," Jadeja said.

Coleman said smaller tenants have been less aggressive about pulling their employees back into company quarters, which Coleman attributes to various factors.

Many of the biggest employers are focused on technology, entertainm­ent and media, and tend to view their company culture as a key to recruiting and retaining top talent. Their work — such as developing shows, games and other intellectu­al products — is often teambased and collaborat­ive.

"If you look at the past, the Facebooks, Google, Amazon and Apples of the world built their entire campus facility structure around culture, amenities and collaborat­ion," he said. "They realize that is at the forefront of their success, so they're getting back to that."

Smaller companies are invested in their culture too, he said, but may be reluctant to order workers back to the office because they're worried that some people will resist or even resign because they're worried about their safety.

Some may have decided that commuting is unbearable, or they find co-workers annoying and feel more productive working independen­tly.

Small employers are "concerned about employee pushback" that might include quitting, Coleman said. "If they lose 10% of their workforce, it's going to have a bigger impact" on their ability to do business than it might for a large employer.

Still, many smaller businesses are coming back to hybrid work schedules, he said, though there are difference­s among types of companies small and large when it comes to toiling together.

 ?? FRANCINE ORR/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS ?? The main entrance of the California Market Center on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in Los Angeles.
FRANCINE ORR/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS The main entrance of the California Market Center on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in Los Angeles.

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