San Francisco workers return to office but lag national averages


San Francisco employers pushing their workers back to the office scored some victories in 2023, with office visits up by nearly one-quarter compared to 2022 figures, according to Placer.ai. 

That’s the biggest increase in all five cities where the cell phone data analytics company tracks data, though San Francisco is still the furthest below its pre-pandemic office attendance. 

The popularity of remote work, brought on by pandemic-era shutdowns, has produced office vacancy rates in the city at record highs and led to incredible discounts on distressed properties. So any improvement in office visits would be welcomed by those looking for “green shoots” in the market.

Even with the increase last year, San Francisco visits are still more than half off their 2019 numbers, followed closely by Chicago, which remained steady all last year. The national average was a 42 percent reduction in visits compared to pre-pandemic, with a 6.6 percent rise in 2023. 

SF Workers Return to Office But Lag National Averages
Ethan Chernofsky (Placer.ai)

“The wider office recovery saw a significant step forward in 2023, and though there was a marked difference between cities, the wider trend of recovery did hold throughout all analyzed areas,” said Ethan Chernofsky, senior vice president of marketing at Placer.ai. “Differences between them relate to a range of issues, including more significant migration, the presence of more ‘hybrid’ friendly workplaces, and wider challenges or opportunities in specific cities.” 

Mid-week schedule

After San Francisco, Miami saw the second-biggest rise in office visits in 2023 at nearly 14 percent and now has the most recovered office occupation numbers at only 20 percent off the 2019 numbers.

Miami is also best at getting workers in the office all five days of the week, as work-from-home Fridays has become entrenched in most of the nation. Only 15.5 percent of office visits happen on that day, compared to 16.5 percent in 2022 and 18.3 percent in 2019. But in Miami, 17.6 percent of office visits happen on Friday, compared to just 14.1 percent in San Francisco, which has the lowest Friday attendance in the nation. 

San Francisco just barely eked out a fourth-place spot over Chicago in Monday visits as well. Only 16.4 percent of office visits in San Francisco are on Mondays, compared with 19.1 percent pre-pandemic, helping to cement Tuesday through Thursday as the preferred in-office schedule. 

San Francisco already had the lowest percentage of parents working in downtown offices but that dropped even further since 2019, according to Placer.ai. The other four cities and the nationwide figures showed the same trend.

Similarly, all the cities in the study showed a decline in office visits during the fourth quarter of last year after trending upwards the rest of 2023. San Francisco registered about a 48 percent decline in office visits in the third quarter of 2023 compared to pre-pandemic figures; that expanded to nearly 54 percent in the fourth quarter. Chernofsky attributed the drop to winter weather and shifts in the holiday calendar, and said he had his eye on first-quarter office visits as an indication of what could happen this year. 

“Q1 will go a long way in helping us understand what the true potential for the office recovery is in 2024,” he said. 

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