More workers are finally returning to the office—about a year after the COVID-19 pandemic shifted many companies to a remote workforce. Still, the return has been slow as companies continue to weigh considerations of just how workers will return, a decision that could greatly impact demand in the commercial office sector.
In 10 large cities, the number of employee office visits reached 26% of the pre-pandemic level for the week ending April 21, according to data from Kastle Systems, a technology provider that tracks swipes of key cards and other devices. Dallas and other Texas metro area workers are the most likely to be heading into the office in person. On the other hand, San Francisco and New York have seen the lowest number of returns, according to the analysis.
Employee office visits the week ending April 21 compared to the week ending March 3, 2020, according to Kastle Systems’ analysis:
- Dallas: 41.2%
- Houston: 39.3%
- Austin, Texas: 38.8%
- Philadelphia: 26.6%
- Los Angeles: 23.6%
- Washington, D.C.: 22.4%
- Chicago: 21.2%
- San Jose, Calif.: 17.4%
- New York: 15.8%
- San Francisco: 14.2%
Office lease rates are starting to show an uptick, according to the National Office Report: April 2021, published by CommercialEdge. Nationally, office rents averaged $38.67 per square foot in March—a 1.4% increase compared with a year ago when the COVID-19 pandemic first struck the U.S.
Still, as the vaccine rollout continues, employees have been slow to return in person to offices. Sixty-six percent of employers expect to implement some form of a hybrid work model. But 44% of corporate leaders surveyed anticipate employees will still work in the office the majority of the workweek, according to a new survey of 103 corporate leaders from Vocon, an architecture and workplace strategy consulting firm.
Flexible work policies are likely here to stay, and that could shift the needs in the office sector for the need for more flexible, adaptable spaces and leases.
Only 12% of the corporate leaders surveyed by Vocon expect their employees to work at the office full time, five days a week after the pandemic. Twenty-two percent expect employees to return to offices one or two days a week. Forty-four percent believe workers will return to the office at least three days a week.
Some companies are still evaluating their options. Fifteen percent of workers say they don’t plan to return at all to the office until the third quarter; 14% say the second quarter, according to the survey.
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