The Rubber Meets the Road with Realities of Resilient Reentry
State, Industry Face Challenges Navigating Choppy Waters
By: Tamara Small | This op-ed was originally published in Banker & Tradesman on March 28, 2021
Last year was a pivotal time for commercial real estate across Massachusetts, and while 2021 is showing promise, there is a long way to go before we get back to pre-pandemic market stability and growth. In addition to the vaccine rollout, there are a few critical components to the successful and resilient reopening of the economy.
Before we can discuss a return to “normal” for adults, we must focus on childcare and education. The pandemic has shone a light on inequity in all aspects of our society, and education is no exception. While private schools have largely continued in-person, public schools have been implementing a patchwork of in-person, remote or hybrid policies, creating strain on families and leading to learning loss for our children.
Focus on Education and Childcare
A quick, safe return to the classroom is critical to ensuring equal educational opportunities. On March 5, the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted amendments giving the Commissioner the authority to determine when hybrid and remote models will no longer count toward meeting the required student learning hours. NAIOP was supportive of state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley’s timeline for bringing children back for in-person learning.
As for early education and childcare, the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened a long-standing crisis for this critical sector of the economy. The newly enacted American Rescue Plan provides needed federal resources to support childcare providers, children and their parents. While we still have a long way to go to ensure equitable access to education and childcare, this influx of funding will play an important part in achieving that goal. In addition, NAIOP is proud to be a member of the Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education, which was recently formed to make early childhood education more accessible, affordable and stable for Massachusetts workers.
These issues are further illustrated by the fact that 400,000 more women than men have left the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic– with women of color representing a disproportionate percentage. Recent studies done by McKinsey and Oxford Economics estimate that employment for women may not recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 – two full years after a projected recovery for men. Policy changes, continued funding and a commitment by employers to support working women are needed to expedite their return and ensure they remain a vital part of the workforce.
Company Culture Upgrades
Now that a timeline is in place to vaccinate the general public, conversations about what a return to work looks like are becoming more real. For the most part, companies retained their office space in Massachusetts last year, taking a wait and see approach to the pandemic’s progress. Now, companies are making decisions about how to move forward. Google, Draft Kings and Drizzly are just a few recent examples of companies that have decided to not only retain, but expand, their footprint in Massachusetts.
While productivity has remained relatively high for white collar workers working from home, companies have found that strategic thinking and collaboration has been falling behind. In addition, the lack of social interaction among employees is impacting company culture and months of isolation are affecting employees’ mental health. As Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently shared, “Coming together in person to collaborate and build community is core to Google’s culture, and it will be an important part of our future.”
While the rest of the economy is figuring out what a return to work means, the commercial real estate industry is ready to lead the way, welcoming employees back and working with tenants to implement innovative and exciting space upgrades that bring together public health practices and sustain company-wide culture. Expect new spaces designed to foster collaboration, hybrid schedules to manage employee attendance, and more flexible work hours.
Do No Harm
This is a fragile time for our economic recovery, and it is critical that policymakers at all levels of government work to protect the ground we have regained. The state’s Economic Relief Bill, enacted in January, went a long way to providing a framework for recovery and growth, protecting restaurants from increased third-party platform fees, paving the way to increased housing production and more, but good policy doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The exodus of businesses in San Francisco and New York City should be a cautionary tale for policymakers.
NAIOP urges policymakers to focus on growth-oriented proposals that secure our continued recovery. Without a thoughtful and careful approach designed to protect and expand job opportunities, secure economic development and foster further housing production, reentry will mean nothing to the hundreds of workers and families across Massachusetts who were impacted by the pandemic.
The light is at the end of the tunnel and getting brighter every day. Retail, restaurants and more are counting on office workers to secure their own recovery from a devastating year. When it is safe for you, make plans with a coworker you have not seen in a year to visit your favorite places – CRE across the state is ready to welcome you back.