Omicron Has Delayed Returning to the Office, But More People Are Commuting to WeWork

A receptionist works behind a transparent shield at the WeWork as the company enhances health and safety standards in response to COVID-19. TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

If you spent most of 2021 working form home, chances are you still do. The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has once again disrupted employers’ plans to summon workers back to offices. Apple has delayed its planned return to the office in February indefinitely as pandemic uncertainties mount. So have other tech companies, banks and countless small businesses.

Workers—although intention varies depending on level and job title—clearly don’t want to go back in five days a week, or even four days a week. A Bloomberg poll in late December found that the majority of rank-and-file office workers preferred two days a week in office and that managers predominantly preferred three days a week. Only one, of dozens polled, preferred five days “because of home conditions that aren’t conducive to working.”

Nevertheless, many people still desire a dedicated workspace away from the comfort of home that can help establish a healthy work rhythm. Flexible offices became a popular choice during the pandemic.

In December, the first month of Omicron’s wide spread in the U.S., more people signed up to rent desks at WeWork, according to company data released on Monday.

Gross desk sales, measured by the number of desks rented across all WeWork locations globally, rose to 66,000 in December from 55,000 in November 43,000 in October 2021. Physical occupancy rate reached 63 percent at the end of December, up from 56 percent at the end of the third quarter.

“I come to WeWork because I desire human interaction during my daily workday,” Elana Boulos, a WeWork client since December 2020 who runs an event startup called Camp Joy, told Observer. “I am a person who loves socialization and the networking opportunities are still present to meet someone while I’m pouring my morning coffee or sitting in the common space.”

WeWork also saw a growing number of enterprise and individual customers sign up for its “All Access” membership, which provides extra flexibility to advance book workspaces at any WeWork location and office perks like printing credits, refreshment and conference room booking. In December, WeWork added 4,000 “All Access” members from the previous month.

“WeWork allows for a change of scenery and provides unlimited options for the physical location where I will work from that day,” Boulos said. “Somedays I get in the elevator to see which WeWork floor the doors open on first, and then I’ll spend my day working on that floor. I know it’s small but being able to look out the window from a different perspective each day helps my brain stay active which in return helps me stay sharp on my work.”

WeWork said its membership is roughly evenly split between individual and enterprise clients (with more than 500 employees). “Small businesses have returned at a slightly faster rate, as these organizations often have fewer resources to support long-term remote work and are more driven by in-person collaboration to facilitate culture,” Melinda Holland, president and COO of the Americas, WeWork, told Observer. “On the other hand, enterprise organizations are looking to WeWork to power long-term hybrid work models by integrating flexible space into their portfolios.”