The Placer.ai Nationwide Office Building Index: The office building index analyzes foot traffic data from some 1,000 office buildings across the country. It only includes commercial office buildings, and commercial office buildings with retail offerings 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.
Remote work may not be bad for companies’ bottom lines – but it does appear to have drawbacks for employees. Fully remote workers were 35% more likely to be laid off in 2023 than those who came into the office at least part of the week. And full-time WFH personnel also got fewer promotions.
Still, reaping the benefits of in-person office work doesn’t require a full-time return to office. (Five days a week? Seriously?) And for many participants in the remote work wars, 2023 was a year for compromise. But what did the hybrid model look like in 2023? And who were last year’s office visitors?
We dove into the data to find out.
A Hybrid Sweet Spot?
Analyzing office visit trends over the past several years suggests that some variation of the hybrid model is indeed here to stay – though the jury’s still out on whether we’ve found the sweet spot. Since Q2 2023, quarterly visits to office buildings have remained about 34.0%-38.0% below pre-COVID levels. But Q4 2023 office foot traffic was 12.9% higher than the equivalent period of 2022, suggesting that additional office recovery may still be in the cards.
Regionally speaking, Miami and New York closed out 2023 at the head of the pack, with visits about 20% below the pre-pandemic baseline. Dallas and Chicago finished the year with respective quarterly visit gaps of 31.8% and 43.0%. And San Francisco continued to bring up the rear, with office foot traffic 53.8% below pre-COVID levels.
These general trends continued into January 2024. Nationwide, office buildings experienced a 42.1% year-over-four-year (Yo4Y) visit gap, potentially indicating stalling recovery. But at the same time, major markets across the country – most impressively San Francisco – saw sustained YoY visit growth, showing that the return to office (RTO) story is still being written.
Who Goes There?: 2023’s Office Visitors in Three Data Points
Whether office recovery has run its course, or whether 2024 promises a renewed upward trajectory – a more granular picture of the specific habits and characteristics of office-goers can help stakeholders adapt to evolving trends.
And while foot traffic remains substantially below 2019 levels, the affluence of office buildings’ visitor base has very nearly rebounded to what it was before COVID. In Q1 2019, the median household income (HHI) of the Nationwide Office Index’s captured market stood at $91.9K, a metric which plummeted in early 2020 as more affluent employees rode out lockdowns from home. But since then, the median HHI has slowly risen – reaching $90.1K - $91.6K in 2023.
Unsurprisingly, remote and hybrid work opportunities aren’t distributed equally – and wealthier, more-educated workers are better positioned than others to take advantage of them. But visitors to major office buildings tend to have significantly higher-than-average HHIs to begin with (STI’s PopStats puts the nationwide baseline at $69.5K). So even if the median HHI of office visitors is once again close to what it was before COVID, it is these relatively affluent employees that are coming in less frequently and helping to shape the new hybrid normal.
Fewer Families With Children
At the same time, there has been a subtle but distinct decline in the share of parental households in offices’ captured markets – indicating that parents of children accounted for a smaller proportion of office visits in 2023 than in 2019. This change varied by region, with Chicago seeing the smallest shift and tech-heavy San Francisco seeing the largest one.
For many working parents, flexibility is the name of the game – and employees juggling parental responsibilities along with their work loads may be particularly eager to embrace working from home.
Thank Goodness it’s Fri-yay!
Another data point that’s particularly important for stakeholders to understand is the daily breakdown of office visits throughout the week. And foot traffic data for 2023 shows that the TGIF work week that we first observed in 2022 remains more firmly entrenched than ever. People continue to concentrate office visits mid-week and log on from home on Mondays and especially Fridays – an effect that is most pronounced in San Francisco, and least pronounced in Miami. And for municipalities, CRE companies, and local businesses that rely on office foot traffic, recognizing the persistence of this pattern can be key to making the most of those days when offices are abuzz with activity.
The new hybrid model remains a work in progress – and it’s too soon to tell whether offices will indeed see further attendance increases in 2024. But either way, the behaviors and attributes of office-goers will continue to evolve, presenting stakeholders with opportunities and challenges alike.
What does 2024 have in store for RTO? And how will the profile of visitors to America’s offices change in the new year?
Follow placer.ai/blog to find out.