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The Vitality Index: a new metric for who’s back in the office

Our latest WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing looks at a new metric to identify who is returning to the workplace in North America, Google’s billion-dollar move, and a new Future of Life Science event

Organisations are continuing to announce their strategies for returning to the office this autumn but as the Covid-19 situation evolves and plans are disrupted, it is becoming increasingly difficult to stay abreast of who’s returning to the office and when.

To provide more clarity on the situation, real estate services company Avison Young has created a metric to measure return-to-work efforts as they unfold. Craig Leibowitz, executive director of innovation and insight at Avison Young, explains: ‘If the current environment has taught us anything, it’s that this is not a static situation’.

The metric tool, called The Vitality Index, aims to track how and where workers are returning to work. It compiles daily anonymous data from mobile devices to create a near real-time picture of office foot traffic in more than 20 cities and across more than 30 industries in North America. The free-to-access tool uses 2 March 2020 as a benchmark for what an average work day was like before the pandemic upended standard practices. The data currently shows occupancy levels down 60-90 per cent on early 2020 levels.

‘If the current environment has taught us anything, it’s that the situation is not static…’

The data has wider implications. Not only does it provide clarity on where and how employees are returning to the office, but it is also a useful tool for building owners, occupiers, city officials and transport services to ready themselves for when people will be returning to offices at scale. This metric allows them to prepare the necessary services for the right amount of people.

The return-to-work efforts are being measured by average weekday visitor volume. The latest published results on 20t September 2021 found that the average occupancy in offices was down 72.8 per cent from March 2020. However, this isn’t the case for all industries as some are leaping back through the office doors faster than others.

One industry which is racing back to the office is the life science sector. At present, this sector only remains around 20 per cent below the average footfall in offices compared to pre-pandemic times. At the other end of the spectrum, the transport and logistics industries are lagging behind at around 90 per cent less occupancy than March 2020.

Meanwhile, despite their efforts to incentivise people back to the office, the legal and finance sector still remain at an average of 70 per cent less occupancy than early 2020. Media and tech companies also remain at about 70 per cent less, however they have typically been more open with flexible work policies so they may never reach the same levels as before the pandemic.

As organisations look for inspiration to return to the office, this metric provides a fundamental insight into which industries and cities are bringing people back to the office.

Google’s billion-dollar building

On the topic of returning to work, Google has announced its plans to spend US $2.1 billion on a sprawling Manhattan office building on the Hudson River waterfront. This move not only debunks the myth that large corporates are making big reductions in their real estate portfolios, but it also provides a jolt of optimism to the New York City real estate industry.

The New York office market has undergone its most precarious period as hybrid work and reductions in office space have presented a serious threat to the industry. However, as corporates reassess their workplace strategies beyond the pandemic, Google’s move sheds an optimistic light on the future of urban commercial real estate.

The announcement to purchase the building comes as Gensler has released its new research survey suggesting that top performing companies are more likely to expand their office space. The data found that high-performance companies are three times more likely to increase their real-estate footprint in the wake of the global pandemic than standard firms.

Google was already leasing but not yet occupying the 1.3 million sq ft property, but its decision to make it a more permanent base suggests its commitment to continue to grow its real estate portfolio. The tech giant has 12,000 corporate employees in New York City – its largest satellite office outside of its Californian headquarters – and it has announced that it plans to hire another 2,000 workers in the city in the coming years.

The future of the life science workplace

The Vitality Index data shows that the life science industry is among the fastest industries returning to work. This means that there is more need than ever to understand what competitors are doing within the sector and identify emerging best practice. In response, WORKTECH Events is launching its inaugural Future of Life Science event on 18 November 2021.

This virtual event will feature key panel discussions on the future life science real estate with expert speakers from global life science companies including Roche, Bayer and Genentech. The event will focus on the fundamental changes that have occurred in the industry over the past 18 months and discuss how these shifts will drive and innovate the life science workplace.

The event will also showcase a ‘Future of Life Science’ report produced by Genentech and WORKTECH Academy, read the report here. Find more information about the event here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our virtual platforms. This edition is posted 29 September 2021.
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