We’re traveling and going to restaurants. Why not the office?

Falls Church, Virginia-based building security company Kastle Systems has been keeping track of how many people are in office buildings in the D.C. area by tallying building entry card and fob swipes, and it’s still just 32.3%.

The average in the 10 biggest cities it has been tracking is 36.4%.

Yet we are traveling and going out at nearly normal numbers again.

Kastle Systems had added new data points to its weekly Workplace Occupancy Barometer to compare where people are willing to go.

NBA game attendance is at 93.1% of pre-pandemic levels. OpenTable reservations for restaurants are at 84%. TSA checkpoints at airports are at 82.7%. Even movie theaters are busier than offices.

“The data there supports that people are very comfortable in coming back together. And they are doing it. They are just not doing it at the office,” said Mark Ein, chairman of Kastle Systems.

“I think what that says to us is that the slower return to the office is no longer just about health and safety, or maybe it’s not about health and safety at all,” Ein said.

Ein said one could make a good argument that the office can be the safest environment for people to be gathering again, though he concedes there is a difference between being in an office eight hours a day, five days a week, and going to a restaurant for a couple of hours occasionally.

But with omicron fading, the reluctance to return to the office is probably more about being able to continue working well at home, or maybe getting away with it as long as possible. The last 18 months have also changed lifestyles significantly.

“It is really about new rhythms and patterns and habits people have developed working at home the last couple of years. People have started to like to work that way and have expressed a desire to, and so far those patterns have stuck,” Ein said.

Ein is among those professionals of the mindset that, generally speaking, face-to-face is better for office staffs; a hard sell that employers are addressing.

“When we’re talking to clients, we’re starting to see people rethink ‘how to I create the office of the future,’ and I think you are going to see some exciting things that, once people start coming back, they are going to realize that they’ve missed it,” Ein said.

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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