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Many Americans Returning To Pre-Covid Routines Still Aren't Going Back To The Office

Some workers have preferred to stay home to work due to childcare concerns.

Despite office landlords' insistence on the sector's continued relevance, in-person work hasn't returned at the same pace as other pre-pandemic behaviors as the omicron variant recedes. The implications could be long-term, if not permanent.

In-person office worker occupancy sat at 33% of pre-pandemic levels in the first week of February, according to card swipe data from 10 major U.S. cities served by building security firm Kastle Systems. Though a marked improvement from most of January, it is far behind the rates at which Americans have resumed air travel, restaurant dining and attendance at professional sporting events, The Wall Street Journal reports.

During the first week of February, movie theater attendance was 58% of a comparable pre-pandemic interval, restaurants were nearly 75% full, air travel was 80% recovered and NBA game attendance was at 93% of pre-pandemic levels, the WSJ reports. The lag in office work has come despite exhortations from politicians at every level, who see office workers as necessary elements of healthy downtowns and the success of businesses catering to daytime traffic.

Among the most common refrains from advocates of in-person office work is that there is no substitute for the collaboration and culture-building that face-to-face interactions between employees generate. But workers who have returned to the office haven't been greeted by noticeable improvements in those areas, Inc. reports.

Many companies that attempted to set return-to-work dates, which were then dynamited by coronavirus variants, have pivoted to more informal arrangements, fearing  backlash from employees who have quit their jobs at unprecedented rates, Inc. reports. And with the office-using portion of the labor market locked in competition to attract and retain talent, that talent has used the resulting leverage to extract perks, including location flexibility, Wired reports.

Permanent remote positions doubled from 9% to 18% of the U.S. job market in the last quarter of 2021 and could crack 25% by the end of this year, according to a study from job site The Ladders reported by Wired. Major tech firms Amazon, PayPal, Intel and Pinterest all noted in their most recent reports to shareholders that an insistence on in-person work would severely damage their ability to compete for talent with remote-friendly companies like Facebook, CNBC reports.