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.
The rhetoric around return to office is heating up – but is the renewed crackdown on remote work actually bringing employees back to the workplace? Did the summer period stall growth? We dove into the foot traffic data to find out.
Slow and Steady Progress
Following months of relative stagnation, the office recovery has picked up steam. Visits to the Placer.ai Nationwide Office Index in August 2023 were the highest they have been since February 2020 and just 35.2% lower than in August 2019, which marks the smallest year-over-four-year (Yo4Y) visit gap so far this year.
And August’s strong performance seems to be part of a larger trend. Between January and May 2023, office visits were 41.5% lower than they had been during the equivalent period in 2019. But this Yo4Y visits gap for the Nationwide Office Index shrunk to 36.1% between June and August 2023 – a significant improvement and a testament to the ongoing nature of the workplace recovery.
Year-over-Year Visits Continue Positive Trend
Year-over-year (YoY) office visitation numbers also indicate that the return to office story is still being written, with office visits in 2023 consistently exceeding 2022 levels by double-digits.
The pandemic had mostly wound down by the mid-2022, so the fact that YoY office visits are still positive highlights how return to office trends are no longer aligned with the pandemic pattern. This decoupling is not necessarily surprising – while COVID moved many employees out of the office and into their homes within the span of a few weeks, no equivalent dramatic event is forcing workers nationwide to return to their respective workplace. But just because the pandemic is over and many workers are still staying home does not mean that the current status quo is here to stay.
Instead, the steadily narrowing Yo4Y gap and consistently positive YoY numbers indicate that a return to office – in some capacity – is taking place. And while the slow and steady increase in office visits may not bring back the five-days-a-week model that was ubiquitous pre-pandemic any time soon, the data does suggest that the workplace recovery has not yet reached its final conclusion.
Manhattan, Miami, and Washington, D.C. Lead the Return to Office
The Yo4Y office visit gap stood at 35.3% nationwide in August 2023, but diving into return to office patterns across different cities reveals regional variations. Manhattan, Miami, and Washington, D.C. have consistently seen the smallest Yo4Y office visit gap of all the cities analyzed, with Yo4Y visit gaps of 23.6%, 26.5%, and 30.1%, respectively, in August 2023.
Boston has also stayed ahead of other cities all year, but its lead has narrowed since January 2023, and the city’s Yo4Y office visit gap stood at 35.9% in August – slightly below the nationwide average. And, Dallas, which started off the year weak with a 48.9% Yo4Y visit gap in January 2023 compared to the nationwide visit gap of 41.6% has now climbed up to fourth place with an August visit gap of 35.7%.
Meanwhile, California cities remain at the bottom of the pack, with Los Angeles and San Francisco seeing August 2023 visits down 43.7% and 52.7%, respectively, relative to August 2019. But this too represents an improvement from the 48.9% and 63.8% January 2023 Yo4Y visit gaps for Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively – indicating that the office recovery is also underway in the Golden State, even if it may take a little longer than in other parts of the country.
Return to Office Story Still Being Written
While office visits are still far from their pre-pandemic levels, August data indicates that the return to office story is still being written. Office visits are inching closer to 2019 levels nationwide, even in cities – like San Francisco – where a workplace recovery has been written off. And as office mandates become more normalized, the return to office trends are likely to continue picking up steam.
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