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These Five Cities are Seeing the Slowest Return to the Office

In some locations, nearly two-thirds of workers still haven't returned to the office full time.

While some corporate heads are shilling for office returns a whole lot harder than others, the reality is that the pandemic set off a trend and a movement that are unlikely to be reversed.

Analysts from career site Ladders recently estimated that one fourth of white-collar jobs in the country will be remote by 2023 while the percentage of fully remote jobs paying over $100,000 has also risen from 9% at the end of 2020 to more than 15% now.

Which Cities Hate (Or Love) Offices?

Throughout the pandemic, office foot traffic has painted a very volatile picture. After the first appearance of the coronavirus in March 2020 virtually emptied out offices across the country, some cities have been seeing workers return much more than others. 

According to the latest office index from data company Placer.ai, office traffic in July increased by 6% in Chicago, 3.8% in Atlanta and 2.8% in both New York City and Los Angeles.

Office Building Chart 2 JS

But compared to 2019, they are still down 65.8% in San Francisco, 56% in Los Angeles, 41.6% in Chicago, 35.2% in Atlanta and 33.7% in New York.

"Two years after the first lockdowns, the return to office question still lingers," reads the Placer.ai report. "Cities and companies are anxious for office occupancy to return to pre-pandemic levels. The majority of workers, however, still prefer to work from home, whether fully remote or hybrid."

When looking from June to July, office visits rose by 13.6% in Boston.

The study looked at 350 exclusively commercial office buildings in San Francisco, New York's Manhattan, Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago and tracked traffic from both regular workers and visitors to the office. 

'Management Is Responding In Kind'

Investment giants like JP Morgan  (JPM)  and Morgan Stanley  (MS)  have been some of the most vocal in wanting employees back in the office —the latter's CEO later apologized and walked back a statement that he would be "very disappointed" in employees that did not return by September 2021.

Office Building Chart 1 JS

Google  (GOOGL) , meanwhile, also called most employees back and reportedly plans to spend over $9.5 billion on new office space and data centers.

But between fluctuating COVID-19 rates and changing expectations from employees, a return has been harder to orchestrate for both small and large companies. 

Online freelancing platform Upwork found that over 26% of the American workforce worked remotely for at least part of 2021 and, with 2022 bringing a full-on labor shortage, many are simply choosing not to go back to jobs that do not offer flexibility for at least some remote work.

A further study by polling company Morning Consult found that the number of remote workers who said they might resign before going back to the office against their will was at 55% in January 2022.

The "but what about culture?" excuse often given by employers is also becoming less and less viable. A recent study by consulting firm Accenture Plc found that around 22% of remote workers said they feel "not connected" to their work firm while that number went up to 40% for those working in-person.

"Work from home and hybrid work are still the preferred option for nearly all office workers," reads the Placer.ai report. "And despite many high-profile return-to-office announcements over the past few months, it seems like management is responding in kind."