Jul 25, 2023 - Business

More Chicago workers are returning to commercial offices

an illustration of a person with a briefcase walking in front of a burnt orange background with graph paper overlay

Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

Foot traffic is picking up at Chicago's commercial office buildings, but workers are spending less time in the office, a new report suggests.

Why it matters: While hybrid work seems here to stay, the uptick in office attendance suggests that downtown recovery is inching up — encouraging news for those in commercial real estate and other industries that rely on commuters.

Driving the news: Visits to office buildings in Chicago last month rebounded to about 63% of June 2019 levels, per a report from Placer.ai, which tracks foot traffic in 800 office buildings nationwide.

  • That's a significant improvement from this time last year, when visits reached 54% of pre-pandemic levels.

Zoom out: The data show similar return-to-office milestones in 10 of the nation's 12 largest cities last month, with Miami and Denver as outliers.

  • National office foot traffic in June hit about 65% of June 2019 levels.
  • Washington, D.C., led the pack with 78% recovery, while San Francisco saw the lowest, with about 49%.

What they're saying: "June numbers appear to indicate that [office returns are] finally picking up real steam," the report says, while warning that an employee's "relationship to the workplace has fundamentally changed."

  • Notably, workers are spending less actual time in the office. D.C saw office "dwell time" drop by 8%; it dropped by 1.5% in Chicago.

Between the lines: A Placer.ai analysis of first-quarter office traffic found that among those returning to work in Chicago:

  • Top executives are overrepresented by about 4 percentage points.
  • Single people are overrepresented, while those who live with kids are underrepresented.
  • More than half live 1 to 5 miles from the office.

Of note: Compared against a national benchmark, Chicago commuters spend more money on food and drink, organic items, craft beer and on-the-go meals.

What we're watching: That last chunk of work-from-home holdouts may be hard to lure back into the office.

  • A new McKinsey report suggests mid- to senior-level employees earning six figures are the staunchest advocates for WFH policies. One-third said they'd rather quit than return to the office.
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