Most office buildings are still dark in the U.S., six months and counting since the pandemic started, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports.
Brivo, which provides access control systems for workplaces, had data that the “unlocks” at offices — meaning when someone enters a workplace via their credentials — were down 51 percent in August as compared to February.
But visits to manufacturing and warehouse locations were down by only a third. That can be chalked up to the fact that fewer manufacturing types of jobs can be done remotely.
Location has a bearing on the return to work, with tourism-dependent places like Miami seeing as much as a 92 percent return to the pre-pandemic occupancy, whereas cities like San Francisco and New York have hedged bets on reopening, with warehouses, offices and retail locations still at well below 50 percent occupancy, WSJ writes. And then there are those cities in between, including Chicago and Washington D.C., where offices are still half-empty but manufacturing and warehouses have returned to roughly 75 percent capacity.
And going forward, most employers expect there to be a much higher rate of employees choosing to work from home. That could mean it could be years before offices return to pre-pandemic levels of occupancy.
The pandemic shut down offices all at once in March and April. Since then the recovery been uneven across the country, with offices in New York having hit a low of 21 percent of visits in April and only recovering moderately since then. In retail-rich Miami, employee visits to stores were steady at 84 percent and above, including in mid-July when coronavirus cases saw a resurgence.
Adam Johnson, founder and portfolio manager at Bullseye Brief, the New York City newsletter that tracks up to 50 publicly-traded companies, told NPR he enjoys going into his office in midtown Manhattan. But his sixth floor space in the 35-story art deco building is a lonely place.
“I am the only person who's been coming in here since April 1st,” Johnson told National Public Radio (NPR), noting the floor lacks desks and chairs and a giant conference room is empty. “This is what happens when people move out. I come in here and I do yoga.”
Victor Calanog, head of commercial real estate economics at REIS, the New York-based commercial real estate data company, told NPR that because office tenants tend to have multi-year leases, breaking it to trim costs only works if a downturn is long enough to justify it.
Reis has forecast rents will drop by 21 percent drop in New York City this year. During the 2008-2010 financial crisis, rents fell by 19 percent.
The transition away from primarily commuting to workplaces, not likely to subside any time soon, will have other ramifications for the economy as people stop buying gas for their cars as much, stop making random other purchases on the way to and from work and spend less on professional attire to wear to offices.