Office occupancy hits pandemic high

Attendance hit just 42% of pre-pandemic levels as employers give in to flexibility

(iStock, Illustration by Kevin Cifuentes for The Real Deal)
(iStock, Illustration by Kevin Cifuentes for The Real Deal)

There have never been more office employees going into offices across the United States since the onset of the pandemic, but the in-office population is still less than half of pre-pandemic levels.

A record number of employees were back at the office for the week of March 30, according to Kastle Systems’ “Back to Work Barometer” reported by Bisnow. While that’s positive news for the office market, the level marked only 42 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

The share of workers back in the office was the highest in around three months, prior to the surge of the omicron coronavirus variant. Kastle Systems measures about 2,600 buildings in 10 major markets for its barometer.

Some cities are seeing more workers back in the office, particularly in Texas. Bisnow reported office occupancy in Austin hit 61.7 percent of its pre-pandemic level the week of March 30, the first time one of the barometer’s cities crossed the 60 percent threshold. Houston and Dallas are also leading the national return-to-the-office markets.

The pandemic-high office occupancy may be lifting the spirits of landlords and building owners, but the number seems certain to plateau eventually. Two-thirds of the 50 million Americans affected by work-from-home trends would prefer not to return to the office, according to a New York Times survey from last month. Many cited workplace culture as a reason to stay away.

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Before the pandemic, only about 4 percent of employees in the United States worked exclusively from home. By May 2020, that figure had jumped to 43 percent, according to Gallup.

While some major companies are still working on bringing employees back to the office, others have formally acknowledged that remote work is here to stay. In a shareholder letter released earlier this week, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon recognized that “working from home will become more permanent in American business.”

The company expects to have about half its employees work in-person full-time, Dimon wrote. Approximately 40 percent of workers will be able to embrace a hybrid model, coming into the office a few days a week, while the remaining 10 percent of employees will be able to work remotely full-time.

[Bisnow] — Holden Walter-Warner