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Temur Durrani

Multi-Platform Writer


A potentially delayed return to the office due to an imminent threat of the COVID-19 Omicron variant should be treated as a “non-issue,” according to the head of a leading Canadian real estate investment trust.

On Tuesday, Michael Cooper, chief executive officer and chair of Dream Office REIT, said while the spread of a new variant could be cause for concern, he’s not too worried about it.

“So, I’m getting my booster shot tomorrow. I’m going to stay low for seven days. I think everybody should,” Cooper said in an interview. “But I don’t think we should be worried about whether people come back Jan. 4 or Jan. 15 or Jan. 30. I think that’s a non-issue.”

Cooper is another top office landlord responding to urgent calls from multiple public health authorities about allowing employees to continue working remotely.

Michael Emory, CEO of Allied Properties REIT, said Monday that advice from Ontario’s chief medical officer about working from home is “odd and amorphous” because it doesn’t clarify key details about where workers are “most optimal.”

Cooper agrees, but only partly. For him, the struggle to hire for talent amid cross-sector labour shortages is a bigger issue than returning to the office.

“The gating item for us is how do we hire great talent? And I think we’re going to be less focused on whether they work from home or the office, because we need people,” Cooper said. “Having said that, there’s just a tremendous benefit from having people work from the office.”

Still, Cooper said, neither remote work nor hiring woes are taking away momentum from office leasing. Dream Office has “hit bottom in terms of vacancy,” he said.

If anything, Cooper thinks employers should allow workers to “keep it chill” for the last few weeks of 2021 before assessing things for 2022.

“Ironically, this is the busiest year we’ve ever had. Our lawyers are busier than they’ve ever been. The investment bankers are busier, tenants are busier,” he said.

“I think it’s time to end the year and relax a little bit… There’s a lot of anxiety out there, but take care of yourself, enjoy the holidays and be with your family. We’ve been in this too long to start panicking.”