The State of the American Office: Suddenly Emptying Out Again Under the Second Wave

Office occupancy plunged by the most in Dallas. In San Francisco, where it had already been rock-bottom, it dipped into the single digits.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

The second wave of the Pandemic is scrambling whatever efforts had been under way to bring workers back to the office. Companies are back-tracking, and cities are once again trying to keep office workers – those that were still or again going to the office – from going to the office.

Office occupancy fell broadly in the week through November 25, compared to the prior week, but the steepest deterioration was in the metros of Dallas, Houston, and Austin, where office occupancy had previously recovered the most. In the 10 largest metros, office occupancy plunged by 8.1 percentage points from the prior week, to just 17.6% of pre-Pandemic occupancy levels, the lowest since May 6, according to Kastle Systems, whose electronic access systems are installed in thousands of office buildings around the country. In other words, office occupancy as measured by people entering offices is down by 82.4% in those 10 cities compared to pre-Pandemic levels:

This data is not primarily a measure of employment – though it also captures layoffs – but a measure of the impact of work-from-home on office occupancy. For example, instead of 1,000 people working in a particular office building as they did before the Pandemic, fewer than 200 people might be working in that building now, with the remainder working remotely and a few having gotten laid off.

Kastle’s “Back to Work Barometer” for the 10 largest metros – the chart below – tracks in percentage terms how daily office occupancy has developed since before the Pandemic. The green lines depict the metros with the highest office occupancy rates.

The office occupancy rate in Dallas had been over 40% in recent weeks, meaning that occupancy was still down by nearly 60% from pre-Pandemic levels, but that was the best of the 10 metros. It’s at the top metros – Dallas, Houston, and Austin – where the occupancy rates have plunged by the most in the week through November 25 from the prior week, with the occupancy rate in Dallas plunging by over one-third, from 40.3% in the prior week, to 24.2% in the week through November 25 (chart via Kastle Systems, click to enlarge):

The list below shows the office occupancy levels for these 10 metros as a percentage of their pre-Pandemic level in the week ended November 25 (3rd column). It also shows the percentage-point drop from the prior week (4th column) and the occupancy level in the prior week ended November 18. The list is in order of the biggest percentage-point drops (4th column):

Occupancy % of pre-Pandemic Level
Metro Week, Nov 25 Point Drop Week, Nov 18
1 Dallas 24.2% -16.2 40.3%
2 Houston 22.8% -15.9 38.7%
3 Austin 22.0% -12.2 34.2%
4 Wash. DC 15.0% -7.1 22.1%
5 Philadelphia 19.8% -6.8 26.6%
6 Los Angeles 27.5% -5.6 33.1%
7 New York 10.5% -5.4 15.9%
8 Chicago 12.0% -4.7 16.7%
9 San Jose 12.1% -3.9 16.0%
10 San Francisco 9.9% -3.5 13.4%

The San Francisco metro’s office occupancy rate has now dropped into the single-digits (9.9%). Back in August, when Kastle’s office occupancy rate for the metro was still a whopping 13.6%, I took a walk through San Francisco’s Financial District during morning rush hour to document the spookiness of it all, and I posted the photos: Haunting Photos of San Francisco’s Desolate Financial District During Morning “Rush Hour”: Visual Effects of Work-from-Home.

Now San Francisco’s Financial District has died down further. This is tragic for the small businesses in the ground-level spaces, the restaurants and cafés, the gyms, barbershops and hair salons and retailers. Customers have evaporated. Many of these businesses have thrown in the towel. Landlords are in a holding pattern. It doesn’t even make sense to put up a vacancy sign.

At the edge of San Francisco’s Financial District is the Embarcadero Center – five office towers, two hotels, and a shopping center that once had over 125 stores and restaurants, a gym, and some movie theaters. The shopping center is essentially dead and the movie theaters remain “closed till further notice.”

But in San Francisco’s parks, particularly along the Bay, there are lots of people – a lot more than before, according to my own observations. They’re exercising, playing with their kids, sitting out in the sun, strolling. So there is life in the City. But it’s not in office towers. Many of these people are taking a break from working at home to get out of the house for a while and get away from the computer and from Zoom meetings and clear their head and perhaps meet up with some friends or colleagues. But office buildings – and the commerce that depends on them – have become near-lifeless.

The iconic “New York by Gehry” 76-story tower in Manhattan with 899 apartments had an occupancy rate of 98% in 2019. By September 2020, the occupancy rate had plunged to 74%. Roughly 234 units of the 899 units were suddenly vacant! Read… Vacancy Rate at Iconic Manhattan Tower with 899 Apartments Hits 26%: This Shows How Fast & Massive the Exodus Has Been

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  134 comments for “The State of the American Office: Suddenly Emptying Out Again Under the Second Wave

  1. c1ue says:

    It seems the June 2021 return dates tentatively set by Google, Microsoft and other large tech companies in SF and the Bay Area are…optimistic.
    In the meantime, the economic impact continues unabated.
    City and local governments are seeing enormous tax base erosion.
    Travel, entertainment, restaurants – basically any non-essential business like gas stations or groceries: toast – much less the gaping black hole that are the conventions. SalesForce, Oracle, CES – they’re all going to miss at least one year.

    • Thomas Roberts says:

      That all depends on the vaccine rollout. It’s supposed to start by the end of the year and will at the beginning, vaccinate 10 million people a month (the usual quoted number). It’s hard to say how much it can/will ramp up from there. At 10 million a month, it would take 33 months, almost 3 years to get everyone, but, I wouldn’t expect it to take that long. It’s important to note that the more people get vaccinated the less easily the virus spreads, so even at 20% of the population vaccinated, It will possibly begin to fade out (in most areas, if precautions stay until almost everyone is vaccinated). It’s important to note that different groups, will be vaccinated at different phases, those more likely to get seriously sick, usually have more copies of the virus inside of them and are much more likely to infect others. By summer 2021, I would expect enough people to be vaccinated to the point that almost nowhere can justify a full lockdowns, but, depending on area, it’s hard to say what precautions and at what level they will remain in place.

      I would guess most conventions would be cancelled for at least 2021 (late 2021 conventions are more likely to still happen), but, after skipping 1-2 years, some might decide to save money and go all virtual permanently (many may not announce this until 2022, even if the pandemic has ended), others might downscale this year and possibly permanently the size of their conventions.

      As for the return to the office, most large businesses with the current level of precautions, could possibly return by summer and avoid problems. If nearly all those at risk of serious illness are vaccinated and proper antibodies tests showing true number of previously infected and usually no longer at risk, are developed, that could greatly speed things up. Developing good antibody tests has been a major shortcoming so far, and determining your odds of reinfection/how long for a particular group how long your post-infection immunity lasts, would greatly benefit bringing the pandemic to an end.

      • josap says:

        My understanding is we need at least 70% vaccinated to make a difference in the infection rate. There are antigen tests and they are very accurate. For a free test, donate blood. They test it all and will let you know the results.

        • Nacho Libre says:

          How many will choose not to get injected by the ‘not sufficiently proven’ serum?

          What happens to the social credit score of those people?

          Will they be banished from schools? offices? public transportation? rideshares? planes? zoos?

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          josap,

          Herd immunity is when depending on the virus, and how people interact, the point at which a virus cannot infect others fast enough to prevent itself from fading out. This happens because depending on the virus, a high enough percent of the population can no longer be infected. As more people get vaccinated or get infected (and recover) and can’t be reinfected for a while. The virus spreads slower and slower.

          With Covid-19 (which is super contagious) and how America operated in 2019 that number is 80 something percent. With all the precautions currently being done such as WFH, masks, lots of testing and more; the percent needed to be uninfectible becomes much lower. As the number of people who cannot be infected grows, the virus will not spread as rapidly. Every couple of percent (of total population) matters and does have a measurable impact.

          Without precautions Covid-19 is so contagious that nearly everyone who could get infected that didn’t personally take a lot of precautions would get infected; in this case that slowly growing number of uninfectible, wouldn’t make as much of a difference.

          The antigen tests are probably not accurate, if they are, they indicate that Covid-19 is way less dangerous than thought and potentially a third of America already had it and very few even knew.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Nacho Libre,

          Many jobs like nurses, teachers, and working at airports and stores could definitely require you to get it, assuming it’s a safe vaccine. As for the rest of the population, it’s gets complicated. Some old people with failing health and or immune systems may not be able to build an immunity period, so reasonably everyone at say a nursing home and those who visit should have to get vaccinated. For children and under 18 teens it’s always debatable who decides. For everyone else, they have to be offered it, but, if they refuse there’s not a lot that can be/ should be done. I expect most people will get it and after enough of those who refuse the vaccine get infected and recover, herd immunity will develop.

      • MiTurn says:

        “some might decide to save money and go all virtual permanently …”

        Especially as folks become accustomed to this way of doing business and it becomes, effectively, normalized.

        • DawnsEarlyLight says:

          A great many virtual WFH positions will result in outsourcing. Enjoy the lush times and fat paycheck now! Businesses will be forced to go the cheaper labor route, if they wish to survive.

      • Tony22 says:

        “As for the return to the office,…”nice list sir. However you forgot one:

        Once companies realize the huge savings from WFhome staff, and their commercial office leases expire, they will take the next logical even larger step of offshoring staff to India, Pakistan, China, Philippines, British Guyana, wherever there are legions of hungry English speakers willing to work for ten dollars, or less, a day.

        Oh, and don’t forget Mexico. That’s where your Press 2 for Español calls get routed, probably 20% of the phone inquiry traffic in California, and an excellent source of cheap pliable I.T. labor.

        • SlowFauxJoe says:

          India is a really bad idea. Sure it is cheap, but they also don’t have any skills. Everything that I work with now that involves India is a cluster and very, very slow to get fixed.

    • raxadian says:

      Maybe they will able to get all their Office staff vaccinated by then?

      • MCH says:

        What is the duration of the vaccine I wonder.

        • doug says:

          I have read nothing about that issue. I wonder also…tis quite important variable.

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          That’s not important. What’s important is that the vaccine vendors can claim 95% efficacy for a single aggregate of all conditions, ages, genders and races, over the short term. Basically PR. There is a great deal of money at stake.

        • MCH says:

          Thanks, I think that’s a reason to pump $$$ into the stock of these vaccine makers right?

          Mandatory COVID shots once a year, ought to be nice and steady business. Don’t want another wave, or surge….

          Curious to know when COVID will mutate into a different strain necessitating fresh lock downs and new vaccines.

        • sunny129 says:

          MCH

          Vaccine panel recommendation 13:1.

          The hold out was Dr. Helen Talbut b/c of conern that very elderly was included in ANY of the trials! In fact very few if at all 55y or above pariticipated (Not just enlisted!) in any of the trials.

          Nursing home workers and residents have targeted first. They need two doses with a month or two apart. Dr. Talbut is afraid that many will succumb and di, after the first dose ( It is not a walk in park even for healthy adultS!) and may never whether it was natural, & or covid!?

          It is a lot of ifs, what and when, unansered questions/gaps, mine fileld to lay in comfort

    • Jonas Grimm says:

      They have a huge tax base they just refuse to exploit it correctly. Mostly because they’re in on the scam.

    • Lance Manly says:

      Take into account the huge spike in cases we will have over the next 4 months, given the high positivity and the number of asymptomatic cases we are probably close to 400k per day and that could double once we get deeper into the holidays. So by March maybe we have 100M cases, that is quite a bit. Though herd immunity won’t be reached it will certainly affect the spread. Of course we could save a couple of 100k deaths by implementing simple measures while the vaccine roles out, but we don’t seem capable of that.

      • Heinz says:

        The total number of COVID-19 cases, alarmingly high as they are reported, are completely meaningless without a breakdown of cases into asymptomatic, mild, severe, or life-threatening.

        Many, many people have been exposed to this virus and have developed an immune response, and yet have not been sickened much if at all. That in my opinion is the experience of vast majority of infected people (do not construe this to mean I think SARS-CoV-2 is just the flu or a hoax– no, it is a major public health impact).

        Then again, there is a smaller subset of population that is especially predisposed to serious illness from virus– elderly, obese, immune-compromised, those with preexisting comorbidities, etc.

        I see these alarming case numbers shouted by an alarmist mass media and just roll my eyes at a silly spectacle.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          Agree with you totally H,
          Long ago trained as a ‘science’ student, I have followed this virus event since it was first mentioned in the Asian press in January, and have yet to see any definitive statements.
          No doubt some of the lack of clear reporting is due to politics, but the rest is clearly due to there not being any kind of ”standards” as to what constitutes the obviously greatly varying levels of contagion and resulting disease (s) that are causes of death.
          The lack of standards seems to occur at every level from local to global, with some epidemiologists suggesting, for example, that the number of people already infected ( in USA) may be as much as 10 times the ”confirmed cases.”
          Based only on the graphics on the Johns Hopkins site, a couple of things do seem clear enough at this point:
          First is that the world, in total, is not anywhere near the end of pandemic levels of contagion.
          Second is that the countries known to be more demanding of physical effort just to live — walking instead of riding, etc., appear to be experiencing less deaths per case.
          Other than those, IMO the rest of it is opinionating at best,,, propagandizing at worst.

        • sunny129 says:

          Heinz

          Forget all those moving numbers by the hour!

          Ultimately it is thealarming increase in the rate of hospitalizations, ICU beds occupied and deaths in following weeks. These are vital.

          It is the increased strain on the Health care workers ( who are already exhausted, with some quitting al together, with 6% of those infected dyeing!) the worse is yet to come!

          MD(ret)

    • Low Paid Minion says:

      No problem. They will start taxing the home offices of the work at home/wretched refuse at a new “business” rate.

      They wont mind, because they are saving sooooo much money working at home

  2. MCH says:

    The real question is how much of a reversion back to normal will there be once a vaccine is fully distributed. Say by mid or late next year. And realistically, how permanent is this structural shift that we are seeing currently.

    After all, how many companies will push to have offices opened up in SF going forward. But then again, the good thing here might be that rent and housing prices will likely be falling through out most of next year until some kind of equilibrium is reached.

    I would guess that equilibrium will take about one to two years from now. The only real question is what the population would be in SF at that point.

    • Mike says:

      There is a shift happening. In my tech company, the group planning for the return is revisiting every assumption we previously had. Assigned desks. Very likely gone. Replaced by desks-you-reserve-for-a-day. Spaced 6 feet apart. 5 day work week. Very likely gone. Replaced by 1-2 days in the office the rest WFH. The move to “unassigned open space” has been accelerated a lot. As is the expectation that most people who can work from home will continue to work from home at least 2-3 days a week.

      This is in spite of what others have posted around the productivity of people working from home versus in an office. We have noticed communication between teams has fallen off a lot. Communication across leadership has fallen off too. No quick hall way talks. No talks over coffee in the kitchen. Not talks while walking to lunch/coffee/whatever. The unplanned communication has stopped. It’s been replaced by 30 minute Zoom calls.

      • Prof. Emeritus says:

        Sounds like a heaven for people with Asperger’s.

      • MCH says:

        I think that’s the one big thing about working in an office that you could never replace with Zoom or any other meeting system, serendipity. No more bumping into people in the hallways and random interactions that is essentially a glue to putting a team together or generate new ideas.

        I work from outside the office regularly in the pandemic, and went in once a month, and it helped tremendously talking with the people there about various aspects of the job. Now, it’s quite a bit more challenging to do this through Teams or whatever.

        • Apple says:

          I wish there were studies that would show that workers in an open plan office were more team oriented and produced more new ideas than remote workers.

          I keep hearing anecdotal stories but they are never specific about the successes.

          Standing around the breakroom, drinking coffee and discussing last nights sportsball has never seemed a productive use of time to me, but maybe that’s how the concept for Uber or WeWork came about?

        • Cas127 says:

          Apple,

          “how the concept for Uber or WeWork came about?”

          (Super subtle sarc? If not…)

          Or maybe somebody had once ridden in a cab or rented an executive suite.

          And had heard about this internet thingee.

          Neither company is exactly inventing-the-laser original…

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          @MCH – Corporations have been phasing out serendipity since 2000. Same for working from home in high tech where all screens can look the same. Replaced by CMM and ISO 9000, mostly by managers that can’t do engineering. Issues that were once resolved in 15 minutes by the big laser printer or in the cafeteria now take 2-3 days. If – they are resolved.

      • Dano says:

        I owned a company once where only a handful of people had offices—a sales organization. Everyone else was in cubes. I tried to “improve” things by giving most people offices with a move.

        It failed.

        Sales went backwards. Communication fell off significantly. People spent more time surfing than working.

        It really took the peer pressure of those around them to keep everyone rowing in the same direction. Absent that, it was like herding cats.

        People are social animals. Introverts may do very well on their own, but the extroverts who aren’t self-driven will always have a hard time. Or those easily distracted (raises both hands high in the air).

        Things will be permanently changed, but I find it hard to believe most will be WFH workers a year from now.

        • Engin-ear says:

          “peer pressure”

          You nailed it.
          A permanent peer pressure is the unique selling point of the crowded office.

        • Pete Koziar says:

          Depends on the job.

          Engineers like me need quiet to concentrate on what we’re doing, not get interrupted every 5 minutes. When in the office, most of us also wear headphones/earbuds so we don’t need to hear conversations all around us.

          We’ve gotten far more done at home.

        • MCH says:

          I think it really depends a lot on the office situation. I agree that with a lot of engineers, the work cannot be social. I do think that’s the advantage of having a cube farm than an open planned office.

          But it also depends on the type of engineering, most of them need hands on to some extent, and access to labs. So, the amount of work there, can’t be understated, and regular interactions in the labs are critical. People can describe the effects of a mechanical component given enough time, but it’s just so much easier if it’s shown to someone. That hands on component can’t be overstated enough.

          Software people might be able to get away with WFH, hardware, not so much.

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          If folks don’t have assigned cubes we can’t fill them up with balloons on their birthday.

        • NoPrep says:

          Either way, keep a red stapler nearby! It worked for Milton for a long time.

    • sunny129 says:

      Too much hype and hopium riding on these vaccines. Prepare to get disappointed.
      See my comments above.

  3. MiTurn says:

    Two of my adult children are tech workers and both were told to WFH until at least summer 2021. The one was told that the new normal after that is one-day-a-week at the office, the rest from home. He loves it, as he gets to see his kids more.

    New normal.

    Wolf, the food trucks still around downtown SF?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      I’ve seen a few of them turn up along the Bay … where the people are :-]

    • Tony22 says:

      Wolf, how to avoid expensive commercial leases, Americans with Disabilities Act remodeling requirements, high local taxes; Rent a parking lot and sell space at picnic tables for the price of canned beer. Food truck, owned by separate LLC pulls up and everyone is happy, until it rains.

  4. The artist formerly know as Marcus says:

    Having worked in the office every day during the pandemic, it has become more and more apparent that the work from home folks are less productive. Not in a malignant way. But things are less efficient because they miss out on so many important hallway conversations and the frequent quick fixes that can be hammered out in a few minutes by grabbing 3 or 4 key people. In the long run, companies that go back to mostly office work will outperform ones that don’t. Even a fractional advantage in efficiency goes a long way and competition will drive many companies to follow. That’s my two cents. But this is also coming from biotech where half of the company is in the lab all day, so in person impromptu meetings are incredibly valuable.

    • MarkinSF says:

      I’ve been in the office a lot as well. And I seem to be covering for all the things that people can’t seem to manage to do at home. It’s already creating tension between those WFH (and more frequently working from far away from home) and those who really need to come in to be efficient.
      I just can’t get over the fact that what appears to be a brief respite from going to the office has created this pandemonium of people moving out people moving in. And driving up prices to the point (in suburb/rural/mini-cities) where locals could never afford to buy at that new price point. And pandemonium seems to be apt.
      Who wants to be unemployed in Bumf… Idaho or Vermont?

      • Cas127 says:

        Anybody who doesn’t want to pay $3500 per month (after CA/NY tax…) for a 1 bedroom apt.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        I’d rather be unemployed in Idaho or Vermont, or any number of places than be unemployed in NYC or SF. And the opportunities for online employment have become exponentially better.

  5. MonkeyBusiness says:

    No wonder SalesForce bought Slack.

  6. WES says:

    With so many people and businesses not paying their rent, I wonder how many landowners are not paying their property taxes?

    If work-from-home workers live outside of NY are they still playing city income taxes?

  7. MarkinSF says:

    The Chronicle is reporting the San Francisco has seen an exodus of 89,000 “families” from March through September. This based on the change of address forms filed with the Post Office. This is a net number.
    Amazing!

    • MiTurn says:

      So, if an average family is at least three people that would be 267,000 people. That’s a chunk!

    • CZ says:

      I think they’ve all moved into tents and clapped-out vehicles along the Oakland Estuary. That whole area is now a massive displaced persons camp.

  8. Bobber says:

    If this WFH requirement looks to continue past June 2021, it will trigger layoffs by large corporations. Not everybody works well from home. Many people need hands on supervision.

    Laying people off is much easier to do over the phone. Your boss won’t even break the news to you. It will be a quick call from HR.

    • MarkinSF says:

      Not a text? That’s low-tech

      • roddy6667 says:

        The numbers vary, but herd immunity can be from as few as 60%. I would think that the people who already been sick or tested positive might not need vaccination to possess as much resistance to the virus as one would get with the shots. Currently, that’s about 15 million people who can forgo the shots.
        I’m not a virologist, but the experts can’t agree.

        • Harrold says:

          So exactly what diseases has herd immunity been achieved via infections?

        • sunny129 says:

          roddy6667

          Too much talk and hype about ‘HERD immunity’ developing slowly in the population. So far no solid evidence! Can be re-infected with the same strain or a different strain. A lot of unanswered questions and gaps on the credibility and reliability of these vaccines.

          As one of the researcher raised ‘95% efficiency of WHAT”?
          – To prevent the disease from expressing?
          – Reducing the severity of disease in ‘normal’ adults?
          – Prevents the transmission to others?
          – How far the anti-bodies survive, to what strain?

          None of the data has been completely published or has gone through peer review. All, on the basis their claims!

          AS the President of AMA said the side effects of vaccine are not like walk in the park!

    • RightNYer says:

      It’s not even just those companies, but all the downstream effects. I don’t think people realize just how much of the economy is in restaurants, offices and the businesses that support them, and business travel.

    • Apple says:

      Why would companies have held onto employees since March if they were not productive? Compare are fairly ruthless in disposing of employees. As one boss told me – ‘were not running a daycare here’.

      • nick says:

        In general the picture is of diminished productivity rather than total cratering. But other considerations limiting layoffs might be restrictions from PPP money, costs associated with finding a replacement, and uncertainty about the duration of abnormal conditions.

        Or maybe the HR are not exempt from this and mailing it in themselves!

  9. SorryToBreakItToYou says:

    COVID reinfections and mutations in the virus will render the vaccines useless. This isn’t going away in our lifetimes.

    • Y says:

      The mutation of Covid 19 is just half of flu. So far, only 1 significant mutation. Not bad.

      • Tom says:

        So far.

      • sunny 129 says:

        Y

        A study involving more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients in Houston finds that the virus that causes the disease is accumulating genetic mutations, one of which may have made it more contagious.

        According to the paper published in the peer-reviewed journal mBIO, that mutation, called D614G, is located in the spike protein that pries open our cells for viral entry. It’s the largest peer-reviewed study of SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences in one metropolitan region of the U.S. to date…
        (SciTechdaily)

    • The artist formerly know as Marcus says:

      While RNA viruses, in general, do have a high mutation rate, many have been successfully controlled by vaccines (see polio, rabies, and yellow fever for some excellent examples). Many people look at flu as the model for challenging vaccines, but that’s not a fair comparison. Influenza has a segmented genome – it’s RNA is inherited in eight pieces (like little chromosomes). Because of this, flu is susceptible to both random mutations (genetic drift) and whole scale swapping of gene segments when two different strains infect the same host (genetic shift). Thus, flu makes these huge zigs and zags every year. By comparison, singular RNA genomes in coronaviruses can only mutate in the slower way of random changes to individual nucleotides – like those other viruses where vaccines have worked. This doesn’t mean that long term vaccine success is guaranteed, but it bodes well.

  10. WES says:

    Wolfe:

    These are truly “dead cat bounce” charts!

  11. VoltaMom says:

    Ironically, CoSTAR.com, the commercial real estate database, had an article today touting how office-type ’employment’ was coming back, even if those people aren’t actually in the office. They must be a few weeks behind on the data because the article said Houston was a big gainer.

  12. BuySome says:

    John Wayne may be cold, but the demise of the Western was foretold too early. You may want to collect a pocketful of coin and get the hell out of Dodge, but the city had spread its’ batter-dipped wings across the globe. All is gambling halls on every block and they’ll gladly take from any credit line you can muster. But do not expect a good turn at the gold exchange window as rates fluctuate with every bean filled miner’s passing of gas. And now that Sean Connery has passed the shoe for the last time, there’s always room at the table for one more. Oh, I’ll have a pint with you sir!

  13. Sydney says:

    I think when things like WFH and lack of business travel happen for a year or more, it becomes normal. Processes built. Systems adapted. People hired remotely, projects running, employee lives and schedules set, and everything works the new way now. It makes going back to an old normal more unlikely with every passing month.

    Once things are working fine, there’s no business case for incurring costs (real estate, travel, human disruption) to change it back for no gain. Hallway conversations are time wasters as often as they are productive. Maybe I’m biased having worked in a global company where most people were never in the same city, let alone building. But communication is wildly more efficient with a combo of online chats and calls where anybody can get looped in instantly.

    • VoltaMom says:

      I didn’t think I could work effectively from home after years in an office, but voila. It works. I can chat almost as fast as any millenial!

  14. gorbachev says:

    For me the only issue is elevators. I don’t see how
    I will ever feel safe in one . Love the city though.
    Home cooking and netflix gets old real fast.

  15. Memento mori says:

    I don’t understand, traffic is same as pre-COVID in Southern California, even worse, I can’t imagine what it’s going to be when all those people start going back to office.

  16. Mad Dog says:

    I noticed Traffic in the DC area is worse than it was when everyone was working at offices. Where the hell are all these people going I ask especially if they are WFH. Hardly anything is open in DC except fast food drive in joints I guess they’re bored staying at home. Driving around with their radio blasting is the only entertainment left.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      People refuse to take the Metro. Same thing here in the Bay Area. BART ridership is down something close to 90%. Everyone is driving.

    • Lance Manly says:

      Outside the city it is not so bad. The normal heavy commute roads from the exurbs are dead compared to what they used to be in the rush hours. Closer in you are seeing the effects of the drop in Metro use as Wolf said.

  17. Mad Dog says:

    When this pandemic is over I can see employers who have embraced the WFH model ask the question, If you can work remotely productively, what do I need you for at your gigantic salary and overhead, when I can hire the same or better quality of worker overseas in say India or Bengledesh for 1/2 or 1/3 of the cost?

    The answer will be “we don’t need you anymore”

    JPM/Chase did that with my mortgage servicing in early 2003. They outsourced the mortgage servicing to India from the US. The people answering the phone after the outsourcing sounded like they were right next door, were very polite, and spoke excellent English, and provided much better service than the domestic Call Center people.

    Post pandemic, what I see happening is not an economic recovery but a massive spike in layoffs and unemployment.. This will hit the white collar workforce especially hard.

    • CZ says:

      Off-shoring has been feasible for years. The downsides are contract people who often handle multiple clients, not invested in the work, not internalizing complexities. OK for transaction processing. Our firm re-shored accounting work from India — it was cheaper, but error-prone and impacting the integrity of our financials.

      • sunny129 says:

        ‘ it was cheaper, but error-prone and impacting the integrity of our financials’
        LOL!
        How is the integrity of Big 4 accounting firms here? REmember GFC and their roles? Have you already forgotten Anderson/Enron ?

        -21 Scandals, Settlements and Corporate Crimes of Big 4 Accounting Firms in 2019
        (facelesscompliance)
        -From Enron to Wirecard – Big 4 Accounting Firms Still Face Systemic Problem(insurance journal)

        Too Big to fail ? Big four accounting firms are falling down in India
        Recent development in Indian Corporate sector is indicator of bad days ahead for the Multi National Accounting Companies in India
        (RegTechTimes)

    • Jonas Grimm says:

      Once the white collar jobs start drying up there will be a period of confusion and misery, followed by bloody ruination and conflict. So it goes.

    • OutsideTheBox says:

      Totally agree !

      Blue collar workers were outsourced.

      White collars workers….it’s your turn now !

      • Kansas Sinflower says:

        That has been happening since the 1990s. It is not exactly breaking news.

      • Harrold says:

        The process of off shoring white collar jobs has been going on for many decades now.

        IBM now has the majority of its workers outside the US.

    • Heinz says:

      Agreed. This current infatuation with WFH idea will run its course, just like COVID pandemic will run its course and leave us back to square one.

      It is a tenuous idea that armies of office and knowledge workers can be their own virtual ‘cottage industry’ with remote work in their pajamas on the sofa and appearing as talking heads in Zoom conference videos,

      They will never be as effective as teams working together intimately in a time-honored traditional face-to-face manner.

      I expect corporate execs and their bean counters to aggressively analyze performance and productivity of remote workers and reach the conclusion that virtual workers are easily disposable.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        Depends on the work H,
        W’dFH Jan17 to Jun19, working with owners, developers, design professionals, and contractors in 7 different times zones some of the time, 4 zones constantly.
        Because of the go to meeting and similar apps, we were all able to look at drawings of projects in real time, with the architect or engineer usually at least nominally/temporarily updating/red lining them as we all watched their computer screen and discussed, etc.
        It was the most cost effective team efforts I have experienced, much better than when at least half the personnel having to travel, as I did for years, various distances, including across USA, etc., and then the updates being sent/delivered ”later” and usually needing more corrections.
        It was fascinating for this old guy to be working, live, with folks in EU, NYC, LA&SF, Asia, AU, all at the same time, especially considering there were not even fax machines when I started in office, just phones with rotary dials, local ”hand” delivery, and USPS.
        IMO, going forward those folks that have the top skills will be able to ”work from anywhere” in any kind of what used to be ”paper” profession, while those in the ”hands on” types of work will not.

    • MCH says:

      Don’t worry Mad Dog. Hope is on the horizon, the audacity of hope, or it’s “littler” brother is coming back soon, not quite the original, but a sufficiently decent imitation. The plan is to build back better, nothing like a BBB rated plan to get things on track. Cause if it’s not AAA, you try harder.

      Everything will be better. It’s a promise. The pandemic will be done, and everything will get back on track like it was in 2016.

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      Major telecom did that with my R&D software engineering projects 2007-2008. I trained project managers in Russia, India and Poland. Two years later the company “thanked me for my service” with a drastically reduced exit package.

    • Island Teal says:

      Good Observations. My thoughts include that 1. There will be no going back to Normal. 2. The pandemic/virus does not get fixed and or disappear. 3. 2021/2022 are when the real layoffs start. 4. State, County and Local public sector are forced to face the financial issues and really cut expenses or face bankruptcy.

  18. CZ says:

    Security key office admissions plunging the week before Thanksgiving is probably sort of predictable.

    Nevertheless, most offices I have personal knowledge of in SF have been mostly empty since about May. I know of no one who’s returned to their office.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      CZ,

      Thanksgiving wasn’t the first holiday during the week this year. And no other holiday this year had this kind of the drop in the week before the holiday.

      And this is kind of hard to see in the chart, but it’s easier to see in the actual data: the peak was in mid-October, and occupancy rates have been zigzagging lower since then.

      • Russell says:

        I think companies learned from July 4th. Our company saw the recent increased positivity rates in the public and proactively moved to a more remote workforce prior to Thanksgiving when travel was expected by employees.

    • Rcohn says:

      My daughter works in SF ,but has worked remotely since early spring.
      She said that her company is not renewing office leases as they come up for renewal.

  19. Rj not in Chicago says:

    Want to see the virus affects in the hinterlands take a drive thru New Mexico as I did last week. The whole state is essentially shut down. Stopped for gas and a pee in a station on Route 60 heading toward AZ. Asked the attendant how biz was and she said it was great as everything else was closed. And ya know she was right. Everything was closed!!! Santa Fe….dead. Taos…. Deader than dead. I cannot imagine these places returning to stability anytime soon.

    • Dan Fay says:

      The governor shut down the state for two weeks before Thanksgiving due to massively-surging COVID cases.

      Hopefully, we’ll avoid a bad post-Thxgiving surge and post-Xmas surge, but we’ll see.

  20. NicktheGreek says:

    Government has to collect taxes from somewhere so if you WFH part of your home will be taxed at business rates – in UK for certain.

  21. Y says:

    More free money and more new high?!

  22. Y says:

    Heard everyone will have vaccine by June next year. The disease will subdue then. Crash is not sure thing and there is other way to erode value silently.

    • Max Power says:

      The guesses as to when ‘everyone’ will be vaccinated are all over the map with different entities making different predictions. We probably won’t have a better handle on when this will really happen until distribution and inoculation actually gets going and the true pace can be revealed.

      • steve Brassey says:

        you know, I just had my annual physical from the VA here in Reno; my doctor said he would not take any vaccine until it had been around for at least 2 years; he knows I have never had the flu or the shot, and I am pretty squared away for 70 years now. Maybe I am just another conspiritalist, but I just am not buying what Fauci and co. are selling. Merry Christmas to all, from a former Californian.

    • Winder says:

      “Everyone?” Not me, no way.

      • Heinz says:

        Indeed.

        Doctor, Employer, School, or Airline: Here, take the vaccine, you will like it.

        Me: That’s fine, but you first. And I will observe you for at least a year to see how you fare in meantime.

  23. RollingStone says:

    Vaccines are almost like miracles. They are rare for a reason (very hard to discover and produce) and I fear all this hype around COVID vaccines will end up not being what people expect. Hope is stronger than fear and right now, millions of people (maybe billions) need all the hope they can get. These are hard times and they will get harder with or without vaccines. So much damage has been done to the fragile systems we had in place and a lot of that damage will show itself 2-10 years from now. People are talking about restaurant closures in SF and everywhere else — wait some time: maybe 5% make it through without going bankrupt. The same goes for so many other businesses all while the big players integrate their businesses even more vertically (e..g Amazon) and build even wider moats. Moats and draw bridges that will never be defeated.

    • Gerry says:

      Are you on drugs?

      • RollingStone says:

        Does my writing look like I’m on drugs? What part made it seem like that?

        • Harrold says:

          Vaccines are not miracles. They are science.

        • sunny129 says:

          Harrold

          See my comments re Vaccines, above.

          The last successful vaccine for meascles going through rigourous, SCIENTIFIC’ protocols took 4 years to produce! NOT ‘Warp Speed’ with short cuts, with full data NOT yet published and no peer review on any of them.

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          So hope is a strategy? It’s not even a good tactic.

    • Crush the Peasants! says:

      I wouldn’t say that vaccines are miracles, per se. Your body vaccinates itself all of the time. In fact, your body needs to be exposed to non-self antigens or else it will become thirsty for your self-antigens and autoimmune disease will result. So go play in the dirt.

      As we are seeing with COVID19, the morbidity and mortality of the infection is not directly caused by the virus, but by the body’s inflammatory response to it, including something similar to cytokine release syndrome. Just observe the better treatment outcomes now versus during the first wave results. Doctors have learned by experience, and when your medical school class is derived from folks skilled at reiteration, you will have clinicians practicing harmful treatment regimens, but doing what they were trained to do.

      Vaccines are safer alternatives than naturally occurring virus to stimulate an immune response, but vaccination via naturally or unaturally occurring viruses does work, but the more sickly folks, or the unlucky lacking an effective immune repertoire, may not survive this natural vaccination, and as well, may not survive the clinicians’ archaic treatment practices.

      • Harrold says:

        The corona vaccines being being produced are completely different.

        A typical vaccine directly stimulates the immune response. A microbe injection sets off alarms, inflammation occurs, and antibodies are produced.

        The new RNA vaccine is taken up by your body cells, and then your own cells produce the protein that stimulates an immune response.

        • Crush the Peasants! says:

          Yes, the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines instruct your cells machinery to transcribe the relevant protein which is then chewed up and displayed as short peptides by antigen presenting cells, versus delivering the proteins themselves by injection, an older technology that may not be appropriate in this situation. RNA is much more scalable and lower cost to manufacture. There are no FDA approved mRNA vaccines.

          There are also vaccines (Sputnik, J&J) where the COVID19 nucleic acid is delivered by a different virus, like an adenovirus. Some bad history of HIV adenoviral vaccines. Pre-exisiting viral immunity can limit efficacy. I don’t think there are any FDA approved adenoviral vector vaccines, either.

          Personally, I’ll wait till we see how these work outside the clinical studies. I think the Walking Dead series was meant to condition us to what is coming. :>))

  24. Lance Manly says:

    The big question for a vaccine or head immunity is durability. We have no idea what the durability will be like. So any long term predictions, over a year say, are difficult to determine.

  25. Rinaldo says:

    Suggests to me the FED will not only own all the MBS very soon, but also entire office buildings and apartment towers. Like Prof Klaus “Strangelove” Schwab predicts, “you will own nothing and be happy…”

  26. Alicia Arnold says:

    There seems to be an abundance of overly exuberant expectations for the Covid vaccine and a belief that “x” number of people must/should take the vaccine and things will be “back to normal.” Unfortunately, we are dealing with a vaccine that has been studied for less than one year as opposed to most other vaccines that generally take 10-12 yrs to establish statistically significant scientific data regarding safety and efficacy. Furthermore, “herd” immunity from an epidemiological standpoint is not acquired through vaccines as this type of immunity can only be achieved when a subject actually encounters a pathogen and it is introduced to ALL aspects of the immune system, not just through the bloodstream as vaccines do because our immune system is much more complex and involves our skin, eyes, nose, mucous membranes, tears etc. This is how true immunity is acquired which leads to true herd immunity for the community and is far more efficacious long term. Lastly, it seems really odd there is mass hype about getting a vaccine to market ASAP for an illness with a 99%+ survival rate and considering our annual collective deathrate for 2020 is on par to be the lowest in 5 years (avg daily deaths in U.S pre-pandemic are 8200/day). These numbers are available from govt statistics for anyone to access, but no media outlets discuss them, many things just aren’t adding up as this “deadly pandemic” continues to unfold…

    • Harrold says:

      Hospitals in El Paso have run out of morgue trucks.

      On the glass half full side, county prisoners in El Paso are able to earn $2/hour as temporary morgue attendants.

      • Crush the Peasants! says:

        Good news, bad news, El Paso.

        We’re not the fattest city in the country, but we are the most diabetic.

        El Paso ranks No. 33 among the country’s fattest cities out of the 100 most populated metro areas for 2018, according to the personal finance website Wallethub.com.

        Little Rock, Ark., is the fattest city in America, while Shreveport, La., and McAllen, Texas, rank a close second and third, respectively.

        Related: Liver disease killing El Pasoans at an alarming rate

        The site compared those metro areas across three dimensions: obesity and overweight; health consequences; and food and fitness. It looked at 18 metrics of weight-related problems, including obesity rates, access to healthy foods and the number of physically inactive adults.

        When it broke down rankings by categories, El Paso ranked first with the most people with diabetes, followed by the McAllen area in South Texas and Canton in Ohio.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          Sad to read this ctp,
          El Paso always has been one of my favorite locales,,, for some reason always getting in there approx 0200, (pre I-10) ,,, and the same cook/owner always on duty for many years… and he would chat in the old way, (as long as nobody else came in,), ,, and he was not only a good cook, but a good philosopher of the old school:
          “If you are not a liberal/radical in your youth, you have no heart,,, if you are not a conservative in your later years, you have no wisdom.”
          Never had a ”Huevos Rancheros” anywhere near as good in spite of hundreds of tries elsewhere and my own futile attempts.
          I will keep trying, and, in fact, on this and many other ”issues” AKA challenges,,, NEVER GIVE UP… and just hope I can keep up with Kant’s ”do as you must, and pray that your action is universal.” (Not likely for any human currently, eh?)

    • David Hall says:

      The number of people hospitalized is nearly 100,000, a new record. For a time COVID was the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Not sure what it is currently. There have been reports of hospitals turning away ambulances. Another hospital was searching for hospital openings in other states to airlift patients to. The Canadian border is closed. Many Canadian and U.S. residents who wintered in Florida last year stayed north this year. My mother’s nursing home is on super lockdown due to another case reported. She is not allowed out of her room.

    • Petunia says:

      I find it interesting the death industry hasn’t been singled out as a big money maker during this crisis. I heard you can buy a casket on Amazon, they must be flying out of the warehouses, or not.

      • Sam says:

        Costco & Walmart too. Cradle to grave coverage.

      • Harrold says:

        Nobody can afford caskets any more, its cremation now a days.

        • Anthony A. says:

          Yep, can get that done in Houston for $600 including picking up the body, burning, FEDEX ashes shipped to you in a nice wooden box, and mailing two death certificates. You can do this all online too!

    • Mortadell says:

      Alicia, very well said.
      I spend most of my days reading studies and research on epidemiology.
      Why is there no talk of getting people to lead healthier lives etc.?
      Heck if Fauci said everyone take zinc for three months, that alone would save so many people.
      I have a full understanding about how the virus works and whats being done to develop said vaccine.
      I can assure you that I wouldn’t touch anything big pharma gives you for at least two years.
      Want some dry reading tonight?
      Go and look at the mortality rates of any vaccine developed in the last forty years and see what happens in the first two years.
      You’ll be working from home for a long time my friends.

      • Heinz says:

        “Why is there no talk of getting people to lead healthier lives etc.?”

        Simple.

        If most people led really healthy lifestyles the health care industry and big pharma would collapse.

        That’s bad for the economy.

    • Y says:

      Comparing with total death is meaningless. Most pre-pandemic death seems from car accident which dwindled to nothing nowadays.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        The Kansas Department of Transportation reports the rate of traffic fatalities in Kansas increased from January through September 2020 compared to the first nine months of 2019, despite a 10.2% reduction in highway miles traveled in the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  27. Robert says:

    “So there is life in the City. But it’s not in office towers. ”

    If the corona crisis continues for years to come (and it may if the virus mutates or the vaccine has major side effects), then you can expect San Francisco to become Detroit.

    Watch “Parts unknown, season 2, episode 9 – Detroit”. Great overview by Anthony Bourdain of how quickly a great city can become a wasteland. Small business is the core of America, and without it city life will die.

  28. Sam says:

    Code speak: “Rightsizing”.

    “Embraer Sees Covid Leading to a Return to ‘Rightsizing’. ”

    Source – ainonline 12/02/2020

    Note – Bombardier (Airbus parent) will benefit, BA (which dropped acquisition of Embraer) will not.

    Synopsis – “Instead of a daily commute inside a city, perhaps we will see short flights between secondary cities and big centers once, twice a week, or three times, and people prioritizing the quality of life in smaller centers.”

    Happy Trails……

  29. Mad Dog says:

    I haven’t seen Fauci talk much about leading a healthier livestyle or doing things which would raise your immune system (like taking vitamin D, C and Zinc. I’ve noticed his eyes light up when he starts talking lockdown and masks. Same goes for a lot these politicians. I think he has used the word “safe” over a thousand times in the last month alone. I don’t see anything safe about sitting home and watching Netflix gaining weight from take out junk food and not getting proper outdoor exercise.
    Any competent physician would not recommend doing heavy exercise with a mask on, yet all over DC you see people doing just that because that’s what Fauci told them to do. I’ve asked a few people and found that hardly anyone in DC even knows what the CDC guidance is. The mayor is completely incompetent. Critical thinking skills have gone out the window, as the population has turned into lemmings. 8 months into this pandemic and no one knows what heck is going on or what do to do. Very sad.

    • Sam says:

      MadDog,

      Mayors/Governors of states & cities display a profound “apparatchik” leadership. Irrespective left/right coast locale.

      And the band played on……….

      “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” – Ben Franklin

  30. MJ says:

    My bro’ in law has worked from home for 25 years, my wife for five now. Both for US corporations. It isn’t hard when yo get used to it. I’m betting it will stick as a trend.

  31. Mad Dog says:

    MJ

    WFH is a trap. Not only do corporations save a lot of money by offloading all their expenses to the worker, they use this WFH/Covid-19 crisis as a dry dry to a Work from India transformation. As I said before , if you can work from home, you can work from India. The senior executives will walk away with big bonuses for saving money and boosting the bottom line. Meanwhile the laid off workers lose their high paying jobs and windup to working as an Amazon delivery driver, or Walmart greeter. Or better yet a long haul truck driver if they want to maintain their income. I see ads all over the place for high paying jobs as truck drivers. These will be the new jobs post Covid-19. Get used to it.

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      There are American software engineering jobs managing developers in Hyderabad and Bangalore. Driving a truck is easier and considerably more stress free.

  32. Mad Dog says:

    A friend of mine in Northern VA said he is having trouble getting a contractor to clean his septic tank. With all the WFH people spending more time at home I see this as a growth industry. Maybe instead of asking coal miners to start to learn coding, the new administration could offer free community college scholarships for students willing to take up a career in this above badly needed essential job. They could even call the career field “Sanitary Engineer” to make them feel good. The pay is good. Contractors in IRAQ and Afghanistan doing this job are pulling in $150/hr tax free + benefits.

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