Remote work may be prevalent in major gateway cities like New York and San Francisco, but in midsized and smaller cities, recent data shows office-based employees have largely returned to their desks. Research by economists Steven Davis, Nick Bloom, and Jose Barrero has shown that the return to the office has been much stronger in cities and towns where COVID lockdowns were shorter and where people use their cars to commute.
The data shows that paid work-from-home days fell to 27 percent in the spring from 42 percent in October 2020 in cities with fewer than 300,000 people. It’s a different story in the 10 largest cities in the U.S., where remote work days were at 38 percent in the spring, down from 50 percent in October 2020. The share of online job postings that allow remote work is also higher in places like New York City and San Francisco. Meanwhile, in places like Columbus, Ohio, only 13 percent of job postings allow remote work. Houston’s share of remote-friendly job postings is even lower at 12.6 percent.
Executives and politicians in major cities like NYC keep pushing for a more robust return to the office, but it’s been a struggle. New York’s office occupancy rate was 40.7 percent in the week starting July 25th, according to Kastle Systems, while Austin was sitting at 58.1 percent. For office landlords and investors, these statistics show one reason why secondary cities, especially in the Sun Belt, have become more attractive. The return to the office has a definite political divide, and the policies and culture that support full-time, in-office workplaces seem stronger in more conservative, smaller cities across the U.S.