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Lila Margalit
October 9, 2023 Office Index: September 2023 Recap

The 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 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 return-to-office push remains in full swing, with companies across industries requiring workers to come into the office in person at least a few times a week. But what’s happening on the ground? Have the positive return to office (RTO) trends that emerged in the summer persisted past Labor Day? What do Q3 2023 office recovery numbers portend for the rest of the year? We dove into the foot traffic data to find out. 

September Setback

Over the summer, RTO began to pick up steam, with nationwide office visits in August 2023 just 35.3% lower than in August 2019, and the highest they’ve been since February 2020. But September saw a renewed widening of the year-over-four-year (Yo4Y) visit gap, perhaps due in part to the recent rise in COVID cases. With masking making a comeback, and a number of schools closing due to respiratory illness among students and staff, some remote-capable employees may be riding out the wave by working from home. Year over year (YoY), office foot traffic continued to increase, but more slowly than it has in recent months – although the smaller YoY increase can also be due to the fewer business days in September 2023 compared to September 2022. 

Still, on a quarterly basis, Q3 2023 visits remained 3.0% higher than they were in Q2 2023 – and the highest they’ve been this year. So while the September numbers raise some room for concern, it’s too soon to tell if they indicate the beginning of a new trend especially with a series of causes that could have driven the short term expansion of the visit gap.

Diving Into Major Business Hubs 

Diving into the data for office buildings in three major business hubs across the country – New York, Chicago, and San Francisco – showcases similar trends. 

All three cities saw continued YoY visit growth in September 2023, albeit less than in July or August. San Francisco – which has consistently lagged behind other cities in Yo4Y office recovery – saw visits increase 13.6% YoY, down from 34.1% in July. Chicago and New York, for their parts, experienced 7.5% and 8.2% September YoY visit growth, respectively. And the New York City Office Index continued seeing the lowest Yo4Y visits gap (31.3%) of the three cities analyzed, indicating that the city that never sleeps is maintaining its lead – even if the other cities are slowly catching up.  

Key Takeaways

While looking at visit numbers can provide important insight into RTO trends, analyzing commercial real estate (CRE) activity can also help shed light on what stakeholders can expect going forward. According to Andrew Flint, co-founder of Occupier, office CRE activity dropped 36.1% from Q1 2023 to Q2 2023, before rebounding to near Q1 levels in the third quarter of the year. Office-related deal proposals also continued to increase throughout the year, reflective of deals created each quarter actually moving forward. These data points may provide additional room for optimism that despite the September setback, the overall trend for office recovery may continue to be a positive one. 

What’s in store for office recovery in the months ahead? Follow’s data-driven office visit analyses to find out.

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