Midwest Emerges as Return-to-Office Champ, Soundly Beating Northeast

Region’s offices were twice as full as the Northeast, according to new research. Shorter commutes likely boosting visits.

(Bloomberg) — Workers in the US Midwest are coming into offices more often than the rest of the country, new research shows.

The region’s offices posted a 60% weekly average peak occupancy rate in the first half of the year, the highest in the nation by far, according to data from Basking.io, a workplace-occupancy analytics company.

The Northeast averaged just 24% peak occupancy over the same period. Midwestern offices also enjoyed more frequent visits compared with the rest of the US, with a greater share of people coming in four or five days a week. Basking.io calculates occupancy rates as a share of building capacity, as opposed to other workplace data providers who track attendance compared with a pre-pandemic baseline.

The resiliency of remote work risks wiping $800 billion from the value of office buildings in major cities around the world by 2030, a recent report from McKinsey Global Institute found. In New York, declines in attendance could drive down the value of the city’s office space by 16% over that time period, and by 20% in San Francisco.

The figures from Basking.io suggest workers in the Midwest either have more stringent return-to-office policies, easier commutes that allow for higher office attendance throughout the week, or a combination of the two. The data align with prior results from Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom’s WFH Research team, which found that work-from-home rates are lower in smaller cities and towns compared with America’s biggest metro areas like New York. Big-city commutes can be tortuous, and those places also have a greater share of white-collar jobs that can be done remotely.

“In the Midwest, it’s easier to get into the office, that’s why you are seeing more frequent visits,” said David Mirmelli, a commercial real estate executive at cybersecurity firm Fortinet who spoke on a webinar about the results.

Anjali Grover, Basking.io’s head of data analytics, added that Midwestern cities are typically more compact that those in other regions like Washington and Dallas that are more spread out, with more suburban sprawl that could reduce office visits.

Basking.io’s report, which collected data from 121 offices worldwide, also showed that the traditional 9-to-5 office day is much less common nowadays. In the Midwest, South and West, only about half of office visits lasted six or more hours. About a quarter of visits across all regions of the US were between three and six hours, showing that many workers are either coming in just for a few meetings, or shortening their time spent in the office so they can get back home for caregiving duties.

“They come into the office, but won’t stay for the entire day,” Mirmelli said. “We don’t see eight hours anymore.”

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