Evolving Location Strategies in the Era of COVID-19

Business Continuity and Operational Risk
Aug 18, 2020 12:50 PM ET

by Kevin Major, Vince Giovannini, Mark Seeley, Kristin Sexton

As COVID-19 continues to change lives across the globe, many employers are wondering what effects the pandemic will have on industries, jobs and the workforce over the near and long term.

The severity of these impacts will depend on the duration of the pandemic and the effectiveness of the solutions and government actions taken to handle the crisis. Initial data already indicates which industries are being impacted most and how the pandemic is set to potentially alter the labor landscape over the long term. Corporations should be mindful of these impacts and thoughtful about how the shifting labor landscape informs their short- and long-term location strategies.

For many companies, the pandemic has triggered a fundamental shift in perspective from growth centric to a holding pattern as employers navigate uncertain waters. Although there is a lack of clarity on how long this shift will last, the initial market disruption has been significant, and its breadth is increasing. This economic disruption caused by the pandemic is offering a unique environment in that much of the economic disruption has been the result of self-imposed measures. This calls into question the duration and depth of the economic fallout. While some economists expect the recovery to be strong and fast, it is likely that the unique challenges of COVID-19 will contribute to an uncertainty in the near-term. As a result, many companies are rethinking their past approach to location strategies and will revise them going forward.

Labor Analytics’ first discussion of the changing landscape in the workforce focused on the impact of COVID-19 and how that might affect labor markets across the U.S. The pandemic is likely not only to dramatically change labor environments, but also change how employers and occupiers evaluate their existing locations and future footprints, placing a greater focus on business continuity and operational risks.

In this paper, CBRE Labor Analytics looks at these key operational risk areas and how they may influence workforce and location considerations going forward.


One of the fundamental differences between the Great Recession and the impact of COVID-19 is the operational and workforce risk brought on by infectious diseases. This key difference puts a priority on the welfare of the employee and the continuity of the business. New questions are being asked about safety policies, cleaning protocols and densification. In these early days, many of these questions are focused on the workspace. However, as businesses determine the safest methods for getting employees back to the office, focus will naturally shift to the workplace. In a growing number of cases, the workplace may be an employee’s home. However, it is expected that, over time, many workers will gravitate back to the office in some form or fashion.

The unique risks brought about by a pandemic create an entirely new set of location criteria and considerations, including:

  • Consolidation vs. Diversification
  • Population Density and Public Transportation
  • Technology Infrastructure
  • Healthcare Infrastructure