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But the Commute Is Still Great: US Office Occupancy at Just 22%

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Office buildings across the U.S. are still pretty empty.

In 10 major metropolitan cities, the average number of office workers who returned to their desks fell to 21.7 percent on Jan. 20, according to a new report by Kastle Systems International. Many companies are still taking a wait-and-see approach as coronavirus vaccinations continue their slow pace. American Express this week told workers to operate from home until Labor Day.

In New York, occupancy fell to 12.9 on Jan. 20, from 14 percent the week before, the Kastle study found. Meanwhile, Manhattan’s office availability in the fourth quarter hit a record high of 14.3 percent, according to a recent report from Colliers International.

In Chicago, which is suffering its own office market cataclysm, Kastle found that occupancy had dipped to 16.7 percent, from 18.5 percent the week before.

The lowest total of the 10 was in Washington, D.C., where just 10.2 percent of office buildings were occupied for the week of Jan. 20. That was a 9.5 percent fall from the 19.7 percent form the previous week.

Kastle calculated the percentages based on key fob and app access data compiled from employees in 2,681 buildings across 138 cities.

The situation was better in Texas. In Dallas, Houston and Austin, occupancy hit between 32 and 35 percent, making those the top three of the 10.

Still, all 9 of the 10 cities saw declines in occupancy from the previous week. The outlier was Los Angeles, which remained even at 26.4 percent.

The other three cities were Philadelphia, San Francisco and San Jose, California.

All is not lost, at least not for the workers. Some employees have cited working better from home. According to a survey from Edelman, 1 in 3 remote workers said they experienced an enhanced work-life balance.

In New York, real estate leaders, despite pushing for the return to the office, have admitted that there’s a long road ahead before things return to normal — or a new normal.

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