Data show office workers home for holidays — just like every day

Card-swipe counts from Kastle reveal how Thanksgiving affected location decisions

National /
Dec.December 06, 2021 07:00 AM

Kastle Systems access control data shows recent drop in office occupancy as New York City lags behind other major metro areas in return to in-office work. (iStock, Illustration by Kevin Cifuentes for The Real Deal)

There’s no place like home for the holidays, and for most office workers now, that is also true for the days leading up to them.

Data from just before Thanksgiving suggest that a fair number of the hardy souls who have been venturing into offices will revert to work-from-home as Christmas approaches.

In New York City, for example, an average of 34.7 percent of workers in offices with Kastle Systems card-swipe entry showed up during the week ending Wednesday, Nov. 17, but just 28.3 percent the following week — a drop of 6.4 percentage points, or 18.4 percent.

Among the 10 largest U.S. office markets, according to Kastle, New York’s pre-Thanksgiving percentage-point drop trailed only those of three Texas cities: Houston, Austin and Dallas.

But the Texas cities had far more workers in the office in the first place: 52 percent, 56 percent and 49 percent, respectively. So they had a greater pool of people in position to head home for pre-Thanksgiving work. In percentage terms, New Yorkers did so more often than their counterparts in Austin (17.2 percent) and Dallas (15.1 percent), and was virtually tied with Houston (18.9 percent).

Kastle, a tech security company that collects swipe data from 41,000 businesses across 47 states, reports that New York City office check-ins the week ending Nov. 24 were roughly 60 percentage points below the pre-pandemic level.

[Source: Kastle]

New York City also has the fourth-lowest business occupancy rates of the 10 cities and is four percentage points below the 10-city average, Kastle’s numbers reveal.

The city has failed to surpass 50 percent of check-ins across all industries recorded by Kastle’s swipe system since lockdowns began in March 2020.

Most of the nearly empty offices still have paying tenants, but work-from-home has pushed up availability rates substantially. Manhattan office supply hit all-time highs in the first quarter, totaling 16 percent and nearly six percentage points compared to the first quarter of 2020. Lockdowns began in the final two weeks of that quarter.

Additionally, New York City wages for real estate and rental leasing decreased by 13.7 percent, from $3.06 billion to $2.64 billion, from the first quarter to the second this year, according to New York State Department of Labor’s Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

Though numbers are down, not all industries have been equally affected. Kastle data show that across the U.S., the legal industry has a higher rate of in-person work, outpacing all other industries by more than 10 percentage points.

Kastle reported a national average of 58.6 percent occupancy rate for law firms compared to 32.5 percent of all other industries combined. At 47.7 percent, New York City’s legal industry in-office rate nearly doubles the in-person figure for all industries taken together.

Coincidentally or not, real estate law firms have been doing a brisk business lately. The Real Deal’s recent law-firm ranking showed healthy sales volume and deal-making. Robert Frankel, a partner at Cohen & Frankel, stated that firms have been busy because wealthy New Yorkers are buying more luxury real estate.

Whether other industries will follow suit next year or allow their employees to keep working in their pajamas remains uncertain.





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