It’s been a long two years since the seats were filled in many of our region’s largest offices. Local employers like Microsoft and Amazon paved the way for remote work, closing their doors for all but the most essential employees. Now, with Covid case numbers on the decline and the vast majority of people in our area having received at least one dose of the vaccine, companies are grappling with how best to return to the office.
Most recently, Google announced that it plans to bring employees back to its Seattle and Kirkland offices at least three days a week, starting April 4. The company has about 7,000 employees between its offices, and the plan to return on a hybrid basis was created based on employee feedback. The approach is designed to maximize flexibility, while still maintaining collaboration, innovation and camaraderie in office. Google says employees are welcome to work in office more than three days, and some roles may require more in-person work.
Last June, Google launched a new work location tool, allowing many employees to move or become fully remote. Since its inception, more than 14,000 employees around the world have transferred to new locations, with about 85% of all applications approved.
Meanwhile, Amazon has stopped trying to predict when employees might return to full-time work in the office. Instead, the company is leaving return-to-office decisions up to individual team leaders.
Microsoft has taken a similar approach to Google. In February, the company announced its employees had 30 days to prepare to return to the office — under the hybrid work routines they’d agreed upon with their team leaders.
Any increase in the level of employees in the office is good news for the downtown businesses and commercial districts in Seattle, Bellevue and Kirkland that have struggled since employees went home two years ago. According to the Downtown Seattle Association, the number of office workers in downtown Seattle has hovered around 25% of 2019 levels for much of the last year, though there has been an uptick recently.
Patrick Bannon, president of the Bellevue Downtown Association, is hoping for at least a 50% office occupancy rate in Bellevue by June. With so many companies offering a gentle return to the office, it seems likely that at least a few more seats will be filled on a regular basis by then.