Delta may be slowing DC’s march back to the office

Many companies have been pushing back their return-to-the-office plans, and some office workers already back may be having a change of heart.

An increase in the number of COVID-19 cases because of the delta variant may be to blame.

Falls Church, Virginia-based building entry security company Kastle Systems has been tracking building access by employees almost since the pandemic began, and its weekly “Back to Work Barometer”  shows a reversal of office worker occupancy.

The most recent weekly decline, measured in the week of Aug. 9, was modest, falling from 28% to 26.8%, but it continued a decline that began in mid-July. It fell as low as 13% during the height of the pandemic last year.

The D.C. metro’s current average office worker occupancy rate is below the 33% average among the 10 cities Kastle has been tracking, and is the fifth-lowest.

Houston has the highest office building worker occupancy, at 46.8% as of last week. San Francisco has the lowest, at 19.2%. Both have declined in recent weeks.

Many companies that had been planning for office work returns after Labor Day have pushed those plans back by weeks, or even months.

Tysons-based Capital One announced last week that it has moved its office reopenings from Sept. 7 to Nov. 2, affecting many of its 10,000 Washington-area employees.

Amazon, which now has more than 1,000 employees in Arlington, has pushed its office return date from October until January because of surging COVID-19 cases.

Kastle Systems’ building security entry systems are used by thousands of buildings across the country, including more than 700 in the D.C. metro area.

Below are charts showing the most recent office worker occupancy rates as measured by building entry, and a chart showing the 17-month trend.

Office worker occupancy rates as measured by building entry as of Aug. 16. Click to enlarge. (Courtesy Kastle Access Control System Data)
Weekly office occupancy rates over the past 17 months. Click to enlarge. (Courtesy Kastle Access Control System Data)
Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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