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Office utilization update

Some of you might remember my Jimmy the Greek Reopening Index. It has become my crude way of measuring office utilization in Toronto’s CBD. Based on this I can tell you that utilization is firmly up this week. Most lunch spots in Toronto’s PATH are back to having lines and the people working at these fine establishments are saying things like “finally” and “the people are back.” All of this is, of course, anecdotal. And I am not saying that we are back to pre-COVID levels. But there was a clear and meaningful uptick this week, which happens to coincide with the lifting of a number of COVID restrictions.

Now let’s consider some actual numbers. I don’t know what they are for Toronto’s CBD (if you do, please share them in the comments below), but Kastle Systems has what seems like accurate “office swipe card” data for the 10 largest US cities. What this data tells us as of the end of February 2022 is that there has been a “return to normal, but not to the office.” Compared to 2019, NBA games are at 93.3%, movie theater ticket sales are at 89.4%, TSA checkpoints are at 87.8%, OpenTable reservations are at 87%, and yet office utilization sits on average at 36.8%.

The “best” performing city is Austin with an average utilization of 53.4% as of February 23. And the “worst” performing city is San Francisco with an average utilization of 26.1% as of the same date. This makes intuitive sense given that tech has been pretty much leading the charge when it comes to remote and flexible work. Still, things are heading up and to the right. And as I argued at the beginning of this year with my annual predictions, I continue to believe that the majority of office workers will return at some point. Offices aren’t going away. And I think they’re going to remain the dominant place of work.

Chart: Bloomberg

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