The Placer.ai Nationwide Office Building Index: The office building index analyzes foot traffic data from 800 office buildings across the country. It only includes commercial office buildings, and commercial office buildings on the first floor (like an office building that might include a national coffee chain on the ground floor). It does NOT include mixed-use buildings that are both residential and commercial.
Three years after COVID first began to upend traditional work patterns, many employers are trying to bring more workers back to the office. But how successful have these efforts been? As the first quarter of 2023 drew to a close, we checked in with our office index to see how the post-pandemic office recovery is shaping up in cities across the country.
Office Visits Remain Steady Nationwide
Comparing quarterly office visits to a Q1 2019 baseline – the last full quarter to be unaffected by the pandemic – shows that overall visits to office buildings continue to hover around 60% of pre-pandemic levels. Month-over-month data also shows that the average number of office visits per workday has not changed very much over the past several months.
As we’ve noted, the persistence of this pattern appears to reflect a new hybrid normal, which sees employees coming in less frequently and concentrating visits in the middle of the week. This holding pattern seems to indicate a stalled recovery.
But zooming in on eleven major urban centers throughout the country shows significant regional variation. In four of the analyzed cities – Miami, Washington, D.C., Denver, and New York – office visits in Q1 2023 ranged between 62.5% and 67.4% of what they were in Q4 2019, while in six others they ranged between 50.5% and 59.6% of pre-pandemic levels. Tech hub San Francisco continued to lag significantly behind the other urban centers, with office visits at just 41.6% of Q4 2019 levels.
Different cities are also experiencing different recovery trajectories. Despite San Francisco’s lackluster foot traffic growth, for example, the Golden Gate City’s visit gap has continued to gradually close over the past year. New York, on the other hand, which experienced a more rapid office recovery through Q2 2022, has since seen its visit growth flatten - though at higher levels than many other cities. Miami, which experienced a rapid recovery through Q2 2021 has seen office visits return to nearly 70% of what they were in Q1 2019 – with some quarterly fluctuations since, but little long-term change.
A Hybrid Future?
WFH (work from home) arrangements carry benefits for employers and workers alike. Cutting back on some office expenses can be good for the bottom line – and the flexibility of remote work can help employers attract top talent. For workers, too, less time on the road means more time for family and friends, and more flexible work arrangements free them up to seek more affordable housing further away from the office. At the same time, fully remote work has its disadvantages. Humans are social creatures – and the energies that are created when people gather together in person can’t always be captured by a Zoom meeting or Slack chat.
Despite local differences, foot traffic data indicates the continued strength of the hybrid model – and the oft-reported back-to-office push does not yet appear to have meaningfully moved the needle overall. Looking ahead, hybrid work arrangements that offer both employers and workers the best of both worlds may be here to stay.