November 30, 2020

It’s Totally Clients’ Fault If You Get Dragged Back to the Office Early

While the pandemic rages on, overpaid brains everywhere are wondering what office life will look like when things return to some semblance of normal. And while the accounting profession remains divided over whether working from home is the greatest thing ever or an advanced form of torture, it’s looking more and more like firms will embrace the status quo rather than go all-in on this WFH thing once the cooties are gone.

So says this Journal of Accountancy article aptly titled “Companies rethink the office, but they’re not ready to say goodbye”:

About 77% of respondents to the third-quarter AICPA Business and Industry Economic Outlook Survey said they planned to keep their office square footage. Only about 18% planned a reduction, despite the potential savings.

We’re then reminded that real estate is usually long-term—office leases aren’t like Tinder dates you burn through and never think of again:

“What I’m seeing personally, with clients and with ourselves, is that we’re status quo. We’re staying where we are. We certainly aren’t taking on any space, but we aren’t giving any back,” said Rebecca Machinga, CPA, CGMA, practice leader for Withum’s real estate services practice in Princeton, N.J. “Real estate’s not the fastest moving industry. If you’re entering a lease or building out a property, none of that happens in the snap of a finger.”

The most interesting part of the article was a quote from Neil Quinlan, president of a financial services firm in Louisville, KY. His firm leased a massive 61,000-square-foot building in early 2019 and, at the time, was “anti-work-from-home” according to Quinlan. But Rona changes things and they may keep some version of hybrid working in the future. The question, then, was: Do they still need all that space if the workforce will be taking advantage of more liberal work-from-home policies?

As usual, it’s the clients’ fault:

Quinlan briefly considered whether the company should return to its previous, smaller office to capitalize on that change. But the financials didn’t figure, and he wanted to leave plenty of space to receive consumer clients.

“They want to come in. They want to see people. They like that interaction,” he said.

So there you have it. Those of you who have already returned to the office or expect to as soon as those Rona vaccines hit the shelves (the hottest gift of 2020, no doubt), now you know who to blame.

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