Brent Sims knew going back to the office would mean masks and social distancing in open-glass cubicles. But he didn’t realize how much he’d missed his copy machine, the never-ending supply of paper, or, most of all, the change of scenery.
After several months of working from home, Sims, principal at Rockit Science Agency, had gotten used to sharing a workspace—and office supplies—with his school-age children. So by the time he returned to his Perkins Road office last fall, its new, COVID-friendly layout and the gentle hum of typing and light chatter reminded him more of Starbucks.
“When everybody came back, they were all like, ‘This is great,’” Sims says. “Going to work is a bit of an escape for people nowadays.”
When the coronavirus entered Louisiana one year ago, office workers packed up and left their cubicles. Since then, some businesses have tentatively allowed workers back in, with capacity limits and safety protocols.
With a new year and growing vaccine distributions, employees and companies are starting to contemplate a return to the office. Workers like Sims are already there, dipping their toes back into a place that is both familiar and newly strange.
Office occupancy in Baton Rouge stood at 76% as of May 2020, down from 80.9% the year before, according to data from the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors. But anecdotal evidence suggests that figure has since crept up, generally getting closer to its pre-pandemic levels across the city.
Returning workers are finding the experience rejuvenating but also peculiar. While many relish the opportunity to be back, they’re also aware that another COVID-19 spike across Louisiana, particularly in East Baton Rouge Parish, could stop the trend in its tracks.