Lagging behind national trend, Seattle workers not in hurry to return to the office

This spring many Seattle-area firms began reopening their offices and tempting workers back with promises of pizza, spontaneous workplace joviality and other all-but-forgotten pleasures of in-person employment.

To which many office workers appear to have said, “meh” — much to the dismay of those fretting over Seattle’s recovery. 

Last week, offices in the Seattle metro area were only a third full — an improvement from early January, but far below what some U.S. metros are seeing, according to Kastle Systems, which tracks office occupancy.

Hart Hodges, an economist and co-director at the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University, thinks overall office occupancy will eventually top 70%.

But there are caveats. New coronavirus variants could slow that pace. Factors such as rising gasoline prices are already making some remote workers even less eager to restart their commutes.

Many workers feel they’ve been just as productive at home, making it awkward for “a manager to say, ‘OK, I know you’ve all gotten your work done … but come back to the office,'” Hodges says.

Indeed, remote work, and the freedom it brings from commutes and other office aggravations, is widely viewed as a genuine benefit that workers see little reason to give up.

For those reasons, Hodges is expecting “a lot of pushback [by workers] for the next at least six months that’s going to keep occupancy in the barely over 60% range.”