Americans are trying to return to pre-COVID normal when it comes to restaurants and movie theaters. But the trek back to offices seems to be lagging. There are thousands of companies that shut down their offices in March of 2020 and still have no plans to reopen them.
This comes even though infections and hospitalizations from COVID-19 have dropped drastically. Still, millions of office employees are working from home because of their fear of the omicron variant, which surged in December.
The Wall Street Journal reported, “Thousands of companies that closed their offices in March 2020 have yet to announce return plans. An average of 33% of the workforce returned to the office during the first week of February in the 10 major cities monitored by Kastle Systems, which records building-access-card swipes.”
Many states are now rolling back their mask mandates at indoor venues, schools, and businesses. But remote work remains a prevalent option for office workers.
Kastle Systems is a business that records building access card swipes. They indicate that 33% of the workforce returned to their offices during the first week of February in the 10 major cities that they monitor. Ironically, at the beginning of December, the percentage of occupancy was 41%.
Kastle has been looking at keycard, fob, and their KastlePresence app data that is used in 2,600 buildings and 41,000 businesses from 47 different states. The company analyzes data and focuses on trends regarding how people in America are returning to the office.
The city with the highest occupancy in the country is Austin, Texas, according to Kastle. The city’s office population increased 4.2% in the first week of February, so their total occupancy was 47.7%. According to their data, the legal world has the highest occupancy rate in the country. In the major cities that Kastle keeps a record of, legal office occupancy increased by 2.9% in the past week and totaled 54.8%.
Americans are getting back to normal in places like air travel, restaurants, and attendance at NBA games is just about what it was in February of 2020. TSA checkpoints indicated that flying reservations rates are at 79.9% of what they were in February 0f 2020. So it is clear just how far office occupancy is lagging behind.
This issue doesn’t just affect the businesses in question; it has a major impact on the smaller businesses that rely on downtown activity. There are literally tens of thousands of smaller businesses around the nation that depend on employees who work in office buildings as their customers.
“In Manhattan, about 10 to 15 customers a day pass through the First Class Barber Shop near Grand Central Terminal. Before the pandemic, the daily average was 50 to 60, said the owner, Nikita Shimunov. He has cut his staff from five to three, but he will still have to consider closing unless his landlord agrees to renegotiate his rent,” The Wall Street Journal noted.
Mark Ein, the chairman of Kastle Systems, said that there was a big divide between the ways that Americans are coming together in other parts of their lives compared to what is happening in their offices. He is confident occupancy rates will keep rising in the months to come, and he hopes that Kastle will be ready to help the transition to happen.
Kathy Hochul, the governor of New York, told business leaders to tell their employees to come back to work. She even suggested that the leaders give their employees a bonus to burn their Zoom app and come back.
For the sake of so many, let’s hope that the same people going to their NBA games will get back to their offices.