Yakir Gabay Reported: Return to the Office: What Vaccines in Israel Tell Us About

Return to the Office: What Vaccines in Israel Tell Us About

Traffic is returning to the city streets. Elevators are getting crowded. Favorite lunch spots are filling up. Two months after Israel reopened its economy, Tel Aviv is moving on from the work-from-home era.

Israel’s lightning-fast vaccine program gave it a headstart in planning for life after coronavirus, and its quick rollout turned it into a global test case on everything from real-world efficacy data to vaccine passports. With commercial activity now heating up in Tel Aviv, employers and employees around the world are watching with interest to see what happens in a country that has come to be seen as a late-pandemic bellwether.

Early signs are that the end of lockdown has flicked the switch on office life. Demand for space is picking up across the board, according to data tracked by commercial real estate outfit Natam Group. Co-working provider WeWork says footfall in its Israeli buildings is up 20% since February, with strong demand for new sales. Google’s mobility data shows a sharp increase in travel to work in Tel Aviv during April, with numbers now close to their pre-pandemic baseline.

Back at it

Offices got a boost from Israel’s vaccination campaign

Source: Google

Nir Minerbi got the first sign that things were about to change back in December, when he tried — and failed — to renew the discounted deal he struck with WeWork during 2020’s initial lockdown. 

Being in the office last year was like “being at a graveyard,” said Minerbi, chief executive officer of quantum computing firm Classiq Technologies. He’s keen to revive the camaraderie of face-to-face working, so has signed an interim contract with a smaller co-working space while looking for a more traditional long-term office lease.


A WeWork co-working space close to the Azrieli Tower in Tel Aviv on April 30. Google data for April shows a rise in commuting levels, with numbers close to their pre-pandemic levels.

Photographer: Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg

While Covid-19 continues to ravage India and cases accelerate around the world, countries with high vaccination levels are taking first their steps towards reopening. Australia and New Zealand kept Covid-19 at bay, though many office-based employees remain at home. In the U.K., where working from home is still recommended until at least June 21, some 42% of employees were at their desks in April, according to Morgan Stanley research. In the U.S., New York will soon be free of pandemic restrictions, and major banks are planning a resumption of office life. Tentative steps to reopen European economies are under way.

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Tel Aviv offers a glimpse for other economic hubs of what work may look like soon, as workers and employees alike seek to rekindle the sense of community they lost last year.

“There’s a huge bounce back,” Dotan Weiner, chief operating officer at Labs, a co-working firm owned by Israeli billionaire Teddy Sagi, said in an interview. “Companies are telling us that without the office, it’s harder to recruit and maintain their culture.”

Bookings at Labs’ Israel sites are at 98% of total capacity, up from a low of 15% last April, said Weiner, boosted by a record wave of tech investments. Weiner was five minutes late to his interview, a tardiness he blamed on “elevator traffic.” Labs is in talks to open two more Tel Aviv locations in the next two years, he said.

Labs also operates 12 spaces in London, and Weiner is similarly optimistic for business prospects in the English capital. Weiner expects a somewhat slower return than in Tel Aviv, with Londoners seen as reluctant to flock back onto public transport networks.

Read More: London Emerges From Lockdown Harder Hit Than Much of the U.K.

The U.K. has broadly tracked Israel’s path through the pandemic, locking down and reopening a few weeks behind the Middle Eastern nation. With case numbers now low and vaccination rates high in both countries, the U.K. appears on course to reopen its economy fully in late June.

Israel has been a bellwether case for European countries like the U.K.

Nevertheless, even in Israel many companies are yet to settle on a definitive balance between working from home and returning to the office.

Yakir Gabay

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