Out of Office: A Slow Return to In-Person Professional Life

Highlights from Foursquare’s recent report on Return to Office trends

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Over the course of 2021, Americans have been easing back into their “normal” lives. And yet, as restrictions relaxed and businesses reopened, with 73% of Americans at least partially-vaccinated—many employees chose to Zoom into work rather than zip back to the office. Even before the outbreak of the omicron variant, professionals have been reluctant to return to in-person workspaces.

To better understand how Americans are approaching The Future of Work, Foursquare put together a new report. You can check out the full report to examine all of the insights we found, but here are five key trends we thought were worth highlighting:

  1. Millennials and Gen X are the first to return. Professionals ages 25-44 account or ½ of total office visits in recent months (the highest share of traffic is from workers between the ages of 35 and 44). This trend is even more pronounced for companies specializing in tech or real estate.
  2. The first wave of in-office workers are mostly men. According to location data, men are currently more likely to return to the office than women (accounting for 60% of office traffic in recent months). This male-skewed trend is especially apparent in industries such as tech industry, whereas industries such as law, not-for-profit or real estate are seeing more female workers returning to the office. While it’s uncertain why men are more comfortable and/or willing to once again commute to work, factors such as childcare may be contributing to this inequity.
  3. Northeastern workers are more likely to stay remote. Professionals in the South are most keen to return to the office, while their Northeastern counterparts are more inclined to work remotely. 1/3 of those headed back to the office are in the South, while the Northeast accounts for only 20% of total office traffic.
  4. Urban workplaces are filling up faster. Professionals in urban areas are more likely to return to their place of work than those based in more regional areas. Foot traffic to metro stations continued to increase, indicating that urban-dwellers have been reporting to the office; meanwhile, visits to gas stations have remained low, demonstrating that fewer professionals have been commuting to work from more rural/suburban areas.
  5. It’s unclear whether caution or preference is motivating the masses. Neither remote nor in-person workers seem to be avoiding the public completely. The large majority of in-office workers are consistently dining out and traveling each month: 88-96% have visited a bar, restaurant, or hotel in recent months. Meanwhile, remote professionals are almost just as likely—if not more likely—to dine out, travel, visit a gym and/or attend a live event as their in-office counterparts. In fact, most entertainment/leisure establishments (restaurants, bars, hotels and airports) are seeing an even higher share of traffic from remote professionals than in-office professionals of the same age group (18-24). This tells us that younger consumers aren’t necessarily working remotely just to avoid public places. 94% of professionals between the ages of 18-24 have visited a bar in recent months; 91% have eaten at a restaurant; 86% have hit the gym; 57% have passed through airports; 40% have gone to stadiums; 30% have stopped by theme parks; and 18% have attended a concert.

We can learn a lot by reflecting on an unpredictable, adaptive year—and yet these numbers are likely to shift once again in the new year as Omicron cases continue to rise. Looking ahead to 2022, one can’t help but ask: will we ever go back to “business as usual”? Only the data will tell.