BOSTON — Many employees have returned to the in-person daily grind more than two years after the pandemic reshaped public life, but the economic impacts will be “quite significant” if even a fraction of the workforce continues to work. to adopt hybrid or remote models, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday.
Linking a shift in work patterns to the future of inner-city spaces and the “existential threat” posed by a stalled housing market, Baker, in remarks to business leaders, made his final pitch for passing a series of spending plans that he said would help Massachusetts navigate a changing jobs landscape.
Baker opened his remarks at a New England Council event with optimism, saying the state had done a good job of “bounce back” from the worst spells of unemployment during the public health crisis.
But soaring inflation and the “shuffling” of the job market will continue to pose challenges for employers as well as policymakers, Baker said. He pointed to working from home in particular, arguing that even a small subset of employees opting against commuting would represent a critical mass.
“They don’t have to be half of what everyone else does,” Baker said. “They don’t even have to be a third party, but if it’s 25% of what everyone else is doing, the consequences are quite significant in many ways.”
Employees who have access to remote options may see significant benefits in this model, such as greater flexibility for family care or reduced travel costs.
Baker said he fears the trend will also cripple urban spaces, cutting off the flow of workday customers to restaurants, shops and other establishments in downtown spaces that were once busy.
“They’re planning breakfasts, they’re going out for lunch, they’re picking up their laundry, they’re shopping at these stores, they’re going out for dinner. They’re a big part of what I call downtown vitality,” said Baker to reporters after Thursday’s event. “If that’s not the case, if most people are going to move to some kind of hybrid type environment where people work two or three days a week remotely and then two or three days a week in the office, it it’s a lot of foot traffic going away.”
The question is at the heart of the concerns of many business leaders and workers themselves. Next week, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce will host its third Debate “The future of work” of the year, this time focused on the revitalization of downtown Boston.
A New Boston Business Journal and Seven Letter Insight Survey of 209 Boston-area Professionals published Thursday found that many employees expect the physical footprint of their offices to shrink in the near future, although this trend has yet to materialize.
Around 45% of respondents said their business had grown in space or size over the past two years, another 43% said their business had remained in the same space or size, and 12% said that their business had declined over the past two years.
Going forward, this split is effectively reversed: 43% said they expect their company to reduce office space when their lease is in effect, compared to 42% who expect to stay in the same amount of space and 15% that provide for physical growth.
“The results of this survey have important implications for the commercial real estate market,” BBJ editor Doug Banks said in a statement accompanying the survey results. “If companies are looking for smaller office space when their current leases expire, we could see real estate costs ease.”
In April, Baker tabled a $3.5 billion economic development bill that he and his team said would spur new investment in downtown spaces and direct hundreds of millions of dollars toward the housing production, transit-oriented development and social housing needs.
He highlighted housing on Thursday as an issue linked to the future of work and downtown vitality, suggesting local and state authorities should do more to support mixed-use developments and convert commercial space into supply. residential.
Housing has long been a challenge in Massachusetts, where production has been sluggish for decades despite population growth and the boom in new industries, and Baker said Thursday the crisis is “probably more acute now” than it appears. was before the pandemic.
With seven months to go before he leaves office, Baker said he sees housing as his No. 1 concern, warning that many young adults risk being left out of a future in the state of Bay if they hadn’t already been.
“That may be the existential threat to the future of Massachusetts,” he said.
As a follow-up to other legislative priorities Baker highlighted at Thursday’s event — including his $9.7 billion infrastructure bond bill, a tax relief package, push for ease the detention of some defendants deemed a risk to the community and health care funding reforms – his Jobs and Town Centers Bill remains stalled in committee.
This list is long with the end of the official legislative sessions on July 31 just looming in seven weeks, a deadline in Baker’s mind when he was faced with a question from the public about the prospects for legalizing betting. sportsmen.
“The Legislative Assembly has a lot of things ahead of it between now and the end of the year. It’s hard to say which pieces will wind up until the end,” Baker said. “I really hope this one does.”