Contact Us

All Aboard, Next Stop The Basement: What Elevator Usage Tells Us About Omicron And The Workplace

London Office

Going up, or going down, the workplace elevator is a metaphor as much as a means of transport.

New data from Kone, the Helsinki-based providers of elevators, escalators and electric doors, shows exactly how far the metaphor translates into reality. It makes sober reading as the omicron variant begins to spread. As Eminem so famously said of his own in-home elevator, next stop my basement.

The return to the office has seen lifts stuck between floors, as usage remains significantly down on pre-pandemic levels.

More worryingly, as the delta variant and now the omicron variant gripped Europe, so the number of lift journeys in European office buildings slowed in November, after a steady rise in 2021.

Elevators make a great metric. Being small crowded spaces they measure office worker’s willingness to compromise social distancing, as well as simply registering how many people are using an office and hotel buildings.

In London, the average number of daily starts per elevator in September 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, was around 13,000 in office buildings. By April 2020, the average number of journeys per elevator had fallen to around 2,500.

In the latest figures for November 2021, elevator use in London had rebounded to 72% of pre-pandemic levels, with the average Kone elevator making around 9,200 journeys in November.

However, the rate of increase of elevator usage in Europe stalled, or even fell between October and November, potentially reflecting the change in people’s behaviour or new restrictions on movement in response to the discovery of the omicron variant in the second half of November.

For instance, in Amsterdam, the average number of journeys per office elevator was just under 9,000 in October, but fell to 7,900 in November.

Berlin, Brussels, Hamburg, Helsinki, Milan, Munich, Paris and Stockholm all saw steady rises in office elevator use since the depths of the first lockdown, but growth has abated or fallen since October. 

However, in Chicago, which still had strict restrictions in place at the start of this year, elevator usage has grown slowly and steadily since January. Usage climbed steadily from 1,500 daily movements per elevator average at the start of the year to 5,600 in October. The evidence of a delta or omicron reversal is modest, with a dip of just 300 movements in November.  

Not so in China where the workforce largely returned to typical working patterns by early 2021, and in Shanghai the average number of starts per elevator stood at 18,300. This has started to fall, too. In November 2021 the average number of journeys had dropped to fewer than 15,000. 

Hotel elevator use has gone into reverse since the delta wave and omicron.  Although the number of average journeys per hotel elevator in London recovered to around 19,000 in October 2021, this number fell to under 18,000 in November. The same step backward is visible in Amsterdam, Stockholm, Berlin, Paris, Hamburg and Munich. 

Kone warned that some of the data is skewed by the way different cultures use elevators. Cities with taller buildings — the City of London, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore — tend to see higher lift usage because walking up isn’t an option. Lower-rise cities obviously need to use the lift less.