implications of remote work for Palo Alto | Invest & Innovate | Steve Levy
During the pandemic, an increasing number of workers have been able and have chosen to work remotely, mainly from home. Although the number is declining as workplaces reopen, it will remain an option chosen by some once the pandemic is over.
Most remote workers are in professional positions or in assistant positions in offices and other workplaces. Service workers as well as restaurant and retail workers work at their workplace. The same goes for construction, logistics, manufacturing and most health professions. I expect most education and government workers to return to work soon.
I see the implications of remote working in Palo Alto every day as I live and walk downtown. There were vacant offices downtown before the pandemic, but the number has continued to grow. The same is true for commercial spaces. There are vacancies everywhere.
I think all of this will reduce our retail sales and tax revenues. There will be a rebound from the pandemic lows aided by the reopening of Stanford and overseas visitors when that happens, but it will not overcome the flight from continuing to work remotely and the constant shift to buying and delivering in line.
Job vacancies, especially for small offices, will remain high partly because of the phenomena of remote working and partly because of the city’s hostile attitude towards business.
These trends have reduced car traffic and increased parking availability in the downtown area where I live. For short-term parking, spaces on University Avenue are mostly full, but short-term lots one block away are mostly open to new cars. WE should follow these trends as more workers return to their offices and Stanford reopens more in the fall.
If I’m correct that the vacant space will continue for downtown retail stores and offices (there is space on the ground floor of our condo building and in my office on Homer which has been vacant for almost two years), then there is an opportunity to implement zoning policies and other policies that encourage these landlords to develop housing on some or more of these sites.
The remote work opportunities that the pandemic has brought combined with welcoming office development in neighboring towns could also affect the attractiveness and need to relocate to Palo Alto.
Finally, the pandemic has accelerated an already strong trend towards more and more online shopping. Our municipal government and our residents must make a realistic assessment of the prospects for retail store space as we move forward into the future.
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