Bay Area/ San Jose/ Community & Society
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Published on June 21, 2023
Reports Show Only Around 40% of Workers in San Jose and SF Are Back to the Office Based on Key SwipesWindows on Unsplash

As the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the workplace landscape, recent key swipe data shows that employees in San Francisco and San Jose have yet to fully embrace the return to the office. Occupancy rates in these major cities hover around 40%, giving indication that a widespread return to pre-pandemic office life might be unlikely. Stability has always been a major issue in office-centered industries, and the data seems to confirm a shift in workplace dynamics.

According to a Fortune article, Kastle Systems, a property management, and security firm, has been tracking keycard swipes throughout the largest metro areas in the United States. In June 2023, office occupancy across the top 10 US metro areas averaged just under 50%. The article goes on to state that office occupancy has never surpassed the 50.4% high reached the week of January 23rd, 2023, suggesting we might never see a return to the full five-day in-person workweek.

In San Francisco and San Jose, the situation is even more dramatic, with last week's office occupancy dropping to 48.1% and 44.4%, respectively. On the other hand, metro areas like Houston, Austin, and Dallas have experienced higher office attendance rates, with 60.6%, 58.3%, and 54.5% occupancy, respectively.

Despite Kastle Systems Chairman Mark Ein stating that occupancy rates over 60% are unlikely, many major employers continue to mandate on-site presence for a majority of the week. The Guardian reports that companies like Meta, Amazon, Starbucks, and Apple are pushing for at least a three-day-per-week office work model, while the Walt Disney Co. has mandated a four-day office workweek.

It is possible that employee attrition and recruitment restraints could have a lasting impact on the culture of office attendance. According to a survey conducted by architecture firm Unispace, nearly 50% of the companies mandating office returns are experiencing more attrition than anticipated. Additionally, nearly 30% reported difficulties in recruiting new staff members.

Another factor impacting the return to work discussion is the increase in remote work policies among competing companies. Giants like GitLab and Airbnb have opted to go fully remote permanently, offering an interesting contrast to those demanding employees come back to the office.

While some companies fight against the wave of flexible and hybrid work models, the shift in power in favor of employees has started to manifest itself in increased two-way communication over office attendance. As explained in a Guardian article, companies that have flourished during these times of change are those that have made efforts to listen to their employees' needs and concerns. This is forcing businesses to re-examine traditional top-down modes of communication and explore more employee-centric approaches.

The office occupancy data gathered by Kastle Systems paints a picture of the ongoing struggle companies in San Francisco and San Jose face. Keycard swipes indicate that despite the push for a return to the office, it seems unlikely to ever completely return to pre-pandemic numbers. As remote and hybrid work models continue to gain traction, the tug of war between employers and employees will keep shaping the future of the workplace.