Nearly two and ½ years since the terrifying, bizarro world that was COVID-19 lockdown made ghost towns of vibrant cities around the world, a new analysis shows Atlantans are returning to their offices at a pace that’s not quite a trickle but is hardly the old normal.
Based on a study of visits to office buildings in six major U.S. markets, location analytics company Placer.ai says the question still lingers of whether returning to offices full-time (as many companies prefer), an adherence to WFH lifestyle, or a mix of both in hybrid situations is best.
Generally speaking, Atlanta’s rebound in returning to offices lands somewhere in the middle, based on the company’s findings.
To gauge the situation, Placer.ai analyzed foot traffic at nearly 350 buildings in six cities spanning the country—Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco—as the second half of 2022 began, and the “shock of economic shifts brought on by inflation and gas prices [leveled] out.”
In Atlanta, 50 buildings were studied as part of an August report on office indexes. That’s not as many as in Manhattan (70 buildings) but more than Los Angeles (48).
Included were commercial office buildings and similar spaces on the first floor, such as an office tower that has a national coffee chain at street level. (Not included, obviously, were mixed-use buildings with both commercial and residential components, where people would be constantly shuffling in and out.)
Weighing visit data this summer versus the same timeframe in 2019 shows that visits to office buildings are still down significantly in every city analyzed.
Atlanta—with more than one in three people still not reporting to the office—falls in the middle of that pack.
Tech-heavy San Francisco led the way in terms of office visit dips (65.8 percent fewer visits than in 2019), while Atlanta was down 35.2 percent, and Boston showed the least percentage change (17.5 percent).
If that sounds grim for office landlords and nearby businesses dependent on foot traffic, the year-over-year numbers paint a brighter (if uneven) picture.
Visits to Atlanta offices in vacation-heavy July were still up nearly 9 percent over the same month last year. (In May, visits were up more than 30 percent.)
A broader look at month-to-month data, however, suggests that office recovery could be plateauing and that “many of the workers who will be returning to the office have done so already,” Placer.ai noted. "Work from home and hybrid work are still the preferred option for nearly all office workers."
Anecdotally speaking, based on conversations with Atlanta workers who reported to offices on a daily basis pre-March 2020, this all sounds about right. But what are you seeing and experiencing out there?
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