Companies stuck with big downtown leases as employees work from home
Before the pandemic, dozens of employees were working from the bustling Georgia Street office of Vancouver tech company Wishpond, which has amenities like a pong-pong table, foosball and a basketball hoop.
But it’s been eerily quiet since CEO Ali Tajskandar directed his staff to work from home last March.
“We saw people are productive and happy to be saving on commute and spend more time with their family,” said Tajskandar. “So we decided for convenience sake – and for the fact we’re not getting any problems as a result, performance is good – we should actually make this permanent.”
That’s left Wishpond’s 10,000-square-foot office space virtually vacant. The CEO tried to sublease the $500,000 a year space at a deep discount, but hasn’t found any takers.
“Very few people even to checkout the space. That just goes to show everyone like us, in our situation, is putting their space on the market and no one wants to take it,” said Tajskandar.
Shivam Kishore with the Vancouver Economic Commission says it’s a common problem for downtown companies. “A lot of organizations in the city are looking at remote work opportunities for employees and are leaving the downtown lease spaces," Kishore said.
The VEC found 43 per cent of workers in Metro Vancouver can and are now doing their jobs from home. And because they’re not coming downtown to work, they’re not spending money there anymore. If workers don’t come back it could cost downtown restaurants and retailers up to a billion dollars a year.
“As a city I think we have to think about what the future could be with this given reality,” said Kishore. “How do we move forward with this new paradigm, can we make the city still a viable place for business to thrive and for people to call home as well.”
When Wishpond’s lease expires at the end of 2021, the company isn’t likely to seek out another office space.
“I think it’s very likely we don’t actually get a permanent office, instead just use WeWork passes or a co-working space so we can actually increase or decrease the capacity as we see the demand by co-workers,” said Tajskandar.