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COVID: Omicron Puts Many Downtown San Francisco Businesses in Limbo Regarding Return to Office

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- With the omicron wave of COVID cases still surging, more downtown San Francisco workplaces are stuck trying to figure out if, how, and when they'll return to their offices in some capacity.

Leonid Plotkin, a small business owner in San Francisco's Financial District, is watching closely.

"The most important thing probably is if offices just re-open their doors for their employees, at least part of the week," he said.

Plotkin has managed to keep his barber shop open throughout the pandemic, but as a business that relies on walk-in customers who work traditional 9-5 jobs in the Financial District, he has lost a huge portion of his clientele.

"It's been very up and down," he said. "Last week was probably the slowest week for me since I came back from being shut down."

"Employers are kind of taking a pause and thinking, 'What do we want our long-term plans to actually be?'" said Kelly Obranowicz with the Bay Area Council.

They survey around 200 Bay Area employers of all sizes monthly in an attempt to get a better understanding of return-to-office plans.

"We have about 6% of employers who complete the survey that say they're not planning to go back to the office. We did see a lot more comments saying people were considering this possibility," she said.

However, the vast majority of businesses do plan to return to the office in some capacity, she says.

"Employers are saying they do anticipate about a quarter of their employees to be remote post-pandemic," Obranowicz said. "Again, that still means you have 75% of your workforce coming in, maybe in a three-day a week average. It's not like we're going to have no one in the downtown San Francisco corridor. It just potentially will be somewhat less or with less frequency."

Obranowicz says it appears many employers will likely move to a hybrid remote-in person way of doing business as their new norm.

"We have nine months of data now where 40% or more of employers have said, 'Yeah, three days a week is how much we're going to be asking employees to come in.' And 60% of employers also polled in December that they were confident or very confident that would be their new norm," Obranowicz said.

One good sign for recovery: Sephora announced they will be relocating their headquarters to the Salesforce building located at 350 Mission St.

A Sephora spokesperson provided KPIX 5 with the following statement, attributed to Sephora Senior Vice President of Store Development Jeff Gaul.

"Sephora is excited to confirm we will be moving our San Francisco headquarters to 350 Mission in 2023, occupying 16 floors. 350 Mission is thoughtfully designed to support and enhance the future of work at Sephora, which puts a strong focus on our employee culture, collaboration, and flexibility," the statement read. "Most importantly, this move consolidates the number of buildings our corporate employees work in and supports our hybrid in-person and remote work practices while providing ample room for growth as Sephora continues to be a leading employer in the Bay Area."

Obranowicz said the Bay Area Council is curious to learn more from their next batch of data from the latest survey results.

"So I think we're particularly wanting to look at not just when are you planning to start bringing people back, but when is your new, long-term norm going to be implemented?" she said. "Are we still expecting to see that around 85% of employers have people back with the consistency they want by May, or are we looking to a further out timeline?"

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