Research Special Topics

Return to Office Survey Results

March 2021

The Partnership for New York City surveyed major employers between February 24 and March 8 to project how long Manhattan’s one million office workers will continue to work remotely. Key findings are that almost half of office workers are expected to return by September 2021; most will continue to work remotely at least part-time; returning workers will rely on public transit; and business travel will permanently decline.

The Partnership found:

  • 10% of Manhattan office employees have returned to the workplace as of early March, unchanged since late October.
  • The total share of office employees expected to return by September 2021 is 45%; down slightly from late October 2020, when employers anticipated 48% would return by July 2021.
  • 14% of employers say they do not know when the majority of employees will be back in the office.
  • Employers expect that, going forward, 56% of office employees will continue to work remotely at least part of the time.
  • 81% of returning employees are expected to rely on public transit, in line with findings from the Partnership’s October (78%) and August (83%) surveys.
  • Consistent with previous survey findings, the real estate industry has been the most aggressive in bringing employees back to the office.
    • Over half (51%) of real estate employees are currently in the office—more than triple the 15% share of the next highest industry, consumer products.
    • Real estate employers slightly reduced their future expectations, with 82% of employees expected to return by September 2021, down from 87% previously expected to return by July 2021.
  • Tech employers expect 51% of employees to return by September 2021, compared to the 49% expected in-office by July 2021 as of the Partnership’s October survey. Finance and insurance employers expect 50% of employees to return by September, down slightly from the previous estimate of 52% expected by July.
  • Large employers are bringing companies back to the office at a slower pace. While 20% of employees have returned to the office among employers with fewer than 500 employees, only 8% have returned to the office at companies with over 1,000 employees.
  • 22% of employers will ultimately require employees to return to the office full-time, 66% will implement a hybrid model with some days in the office and some days working from home, and 9% will not require employees to return. The remainder (4%) said their policy will be role dependent.

The Partnership also asked employers about plans to require COVID-19 vaccinations among returning office employees:

  • Eleven employers plan to require that returning office employees are vaccinated against COVID-19 (with applicable exceptions), accounting for 8% of all employers that provided information on their planned vaccination guidelines.
  • 61% of employers will not require that returning employees are vaccinated; of these employers, 37% will actively encourage employees to get vaccinated.
  • About one third (31%) of employers have not yet decided whether to require vaccinations for returning office employees.

The Partnership also asked employers when business travel will resume:

  • 22% of employers that reported on business travel patterns have restarted travel in some capacity; business travel never stopped for 2% of employers.
  • Nearly half (47%) of employers expect business travel to return in the second half of 2021 while 21% expect business travel will not resume until 2022.
  • 4% of employers say the resumption of travel depends on the lifting of state travel restrictions, CDC guidance and the pace of vaccinations.
  • Only 6% of companies expect that business travel will return to pre-COVID levels, 57% anticipate business travel will return at 50%-75% less than pre-COVID travel and 30% anticipate only business critical trips will return.

Additional Findings:

  • 24% of employers offer or plan to offer employees at least one COVID-19-related benefit. Benefits included subsidized public and private transit, onsite COVID-19 testing, paid time off for vaccination appointments, free or reduced-cost lunches, and changes to the workplace, including upgraded facilities and additional private offices.
  • The majority of surveyed employers have offices in Midtown West (37%), Midtown East (34%) or the Financial District (16%).
  • The majority of respondents were employers in the finance and insurance (37%), real estate (18%), law (9%), consulting (6%) and media (6%) industries.