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Home Newsletter U.S. offices remain half empty as lockdown hits six months

U.S. offices remain half empty as lockdown hits six months

It’s been six months since the COVID-19 pandemic forced offices to shut down and many of them are still quiet, according to The Wall Street Journal and data from access-control systems provider Brivo.

Brivo’s data showed that office “unlocks”, when someone uses a pass to get into their building, have decreased 51% from the end of February. Meanwhile, visits to manufacturing and warehouse locations are down by a third—the drop is likely less significant than offices because many warehouse and manufacturing jobs can’t be done remotely.

Location a key factor in return to work

Cities like New York and San Francisco have been more cautious about reopening offices, retail shops, manufacturing and warehouses as they’re still below 50% of their pre-COVID-19 activity. New Your is estimated to have only 15% of employees back in their offices so far. This is likely because of numerous issues such as public transportation. Meanwhile, employee visits to retail stores in Miami, which leans heavily on tourism, were at 92% of pre-pandemic occupancy during the final week of August. By comparison, San Francisco was at 43% during that time frame.

Other large cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C. are caught in between—manufacturing and warehouses are close to 75% of their normal activity, but offices in those areas are still half empty.

Almost every city saw its workplace visits drop when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in March and April, but recovery has been less universal. In New York, manufacturing and warehouses as well as retail had a record return in June. Offices didn’t see the same result—they hit a 21% occupancy rate at the end of April and haven’t rebounded much since then. Miami has remained steady on the other hand—retail store visits never fell below 84% despite COVID-19 cases rising in mid-July.

More offices are starting to reopen, but if businesses adopt a hybrid model (combination of remote and in-office work environment) for employees, chances are offices will still be partly empty for the foreseeable future. It could be years before offices get back to their pre-pandemic occupancy numbers.

Joe Dyton can be reached at

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