A growing number of states are lifting trade constraints as more Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19, leading people to shop, dine and travel.
But the resumption of activity was extremely slow: working from the office.
The number of employee office visits in 10 major cities reached 26.1% of the pre-pandemic level in the week ending April 21, according to Kastle Systems, the largest provider of technology that tracks this data by sliding. key cards and other devices. While Dallas and other metropolitan areas in Texas have far exceeded this average, cities like San Francisco and New York have fallen behind.
The 10-city average is up from 22.9% in mid-January, but has rebounded between the low to mid-1920s since last June, rising as the economy reopened last summer and dropping during events such as the winter storm that hit much of the country, especially Texas, in mid-February.
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“As the return to power slowly gathers pace, we have yet to see any significant movement,” says Kastle chairman Mark Ein. “It’s a very low number.”
Higher office occupancy is critical to the survival of downtown restaurants, stores, and other businesses that rely heavily on office worker purchases. Many outlets closed permanently during the health crisis, with central business districts turning into ghost towns. The owners of office buildings are also hoping for a return to minimize bankruptcies in this sector.
The outlook is expected to improve in the coming weeks, Ein says, as a growing portion of the working-age population receives their COVID-19 injections. President Joe Biden has told states to make every adult eligible for a vaccine by April 19. By early June, most workers are expected to be vaccinated and many could be back in their offices by July, at least part of the time, Ein said.
So far, 68.4% of people 65 and older – who are typically retired and do not work in offices – have been fully immunized, compared to 30% of the total population, according to the Centers for Disease Control. and Prevention.
“We think you’re going to see a lot more people coming to the office this summer,” Ein says.
Another barrier to returning the United States to the office is that many companies and their employees have expressed satisfaction with remote working, believing it has improved productivity.
Paul Leonard, management consultant at CoStar, a commercial real estate research firm, believes office visits may remain depressed over the summer but are expected to reach at least 50% after Labor Day and 80% by the end of the year. A Gartner survey of human resources managers at 130 companies in December found that 90% plan to let employees work remotely at least part of the time, even after a large portion of the population is vaccinated.
Leonard estimates that 10% of the workforce will work from home all the time, a third of the rest will return to the office five days a week, and two-thirds will let workers share time between home and office. Based on these assumptions, 34% of the workforce would be removed on any given day.
Since Kastle’s systems track office visits rather than individual workers, a company that allows employees to work from home two days a week would record visits that are 60% of their pre-pandemic level.
Lone Star State leads
Texas metropolitan areas were well above the 10-city average by 26.1%, with Dallas, Houston and Austin at 41.2%, 39.3% and 38.8%, respectively. Cities primarily depend on cars, rather than public transportation, where COVID-19 spreads easily, to get people to work, say Ein and Leonard.
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Additionally, they say, the state lifted restrictions on stores and restaurants earlier and more aggressively than other states, an approach that, combined with Texas’s more libertarian culture, may have affected opinions. professional service companies. Many office districts in Texas are also located in less dense suburban areas that are deemed less prone to contagion than urban cores.
“In Texas, there is a little more risk and less worry about the virus,” says Stephen LaMure, CEO of Dominus Commercial, a commercial real estate company in Dallas, adding that most of the tenants in buildings he manages returned to the office.
Lisa Hall, CEO of Bene-Marc, a Fort Worth-based sporting events insurance company, says she asked her eight employees to return to the office on April 18 after telling her they were at the comfortable doing it.
An important factor, she said, was “the availability of vaccines and the ability of anyone who wants one” to get vaccinated. Additionally, Hall notes, Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted the state’s mask mandate and all capacity limits early last month and COVID-19 cases have declined.
She says she wanted employees to come back to the office so she could assess their workload and productivity to determine if she needs to hire more workers now that earnings are gradually increasing after plunging 80% at the start of the pandemic.
In Houston, when Masroor Fatany opened a The Halal Guys franchise in a downtown office district in late January, one or two tables were usually occupied for lunch in the 40-seat restaurant. But he saw a gradual increase in the number of office workers in the region. Most of the tables are now full and there are sometimes queues to order gyros, falafels and other dishes from the restaurant, he says.
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While the rebound still has a long way to go, “we’ve come around the corner,” Fatany says.
San Francisco, New York City lag
At the other end of the spectrum, San Francisco and San Jose account for 14.2% and 17.4% of pre-crisis office visits, in part because they are high-tech hubs where companies and their workers were. accustomed to telework even before health. crisis, says Ein.
Other industries are more inclined to return to the office quickly. The office occupancy rate among law firms in the 10 cities it tracks is 39.3%, according to data from Kastle. Companies tend to be less tech savvy, rely more on paper documents, and have more rigid policies, Ein says.
Law firms also process sensitive information they believe is less secure on personal computers, Leonard explains. That makes the Washington, DC area, where office visits are at 22.4% of their pre-pandemic level, something of a hybrid, he says. There are plenty of tech-savvy office workers who can telecommute, but the region’s many law firms and defense contractors are concerned about the security risks.
New York City also lags behind, at 15.8% of pre-pandemic office visits, in part because it was hit hard by COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic and was cautious about its reopening, says Ein. The city is also particularly dense in people and offices.