Global Vaccine Leader, Israel Shows Comeback to the Offices

Líder global de vacinas, Israel mostra o regresso aos escritórios

Traffic is returning to the city streets. The elevators are getting crowded. Restaurants are filling up again at lunchtime. Two months after Israel reopened its economy, Tel Aviv is coming out of the telecommuting era.

The Rapid Vaccination Program of Israel has given the country an edge in planning for life after the coronavirus. With business activity heating up again in Tel Aviv, employers and employees around the world are watching what happens in a country that has come to be seen as a barometer of the pandemic's exit.

Early signs are that the end of confinement has flipped the switch on office life. Corporate demand for space is on the rise, according to data monitored by the commercial real estate group Natam. WeWork says movement at its buildings in Israel 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 the pre-pandemic pattern.

Nir Minerbi got the first sign that things were about to change in December, when he tried - and failed - to renew the discounted deal he had struck with WeWork during the first confinement of 2020.

Being in the office last year was like "being in a graveyard," says Minerbi, CEO of the quantum computing company Classiq Technologies. The person in charge is eager to relive the camaraderie of face-to-face work, so he has signed a provisional contract with a smaller co-working space while he looks for a more traditional office to lease.

While covid-19 continues devastate India and cases are increasing around the world, countries with high levels of vaccination are taking the first steps toward reopening. Australia and New Zealand have managed to stop covid-29, although many office workers stay at home. In the UK, where telecommuting is recommended until at least June 21, about 42% of employees were working from home in April, according to a Morgan Stanley survey. That number is higher in Europe. In the US, New York will soon suspend many pandemic restrictions, and major banks are already planning a return to offices.

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

"There is a great recovery," Dotan Weiner, chief operating officer of Labs, a company 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 corporate culture."

The UK has largely followed Israel's trajectory during the pandemic. With the number of cases now low and vaccination rates high in both countries, the UK should reopen completely the economy by the end of June.

However, even in Israel, many companies still need to establish a definite balance between working from home and returning to the office.

Check Point Software Technologies, one of the country's largest employers, saw attendance double recently to about 35% of its 2,400 workers at its Tel Aviv headquarters, said Nirit Schneider, head of real estate and operations. While the figure still represents a sharp drop from the pre-pandemic period, it shows a significantly larger group of people back to face-to-face work, with most splitting their work week between home and office.

More than half of the cybersecurity giant's workforce is outside Israel, where Check Point has been trying to shorten contracts and trade home desks for meeting rooms. Face-to-face contact is now the main reason people show up at the office, Schneider said.

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