New York is lapping San Francisco in the return-to-office race

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The Big Apple has more successfully brought its workers back to the office than other major US cities—especially San Francisco.

While nationwide office visits have stayed about 38% lower than they were in 2019 on average, New York City workers are getting back to their office desks. Foot traffic at corporate offices was just 19% lower than its pre-pandemic level as of December 2023, according to Placer.ai’s Nationwide Office Building Index. The location analytics software company analyzes office visits at about 1,000 office buildings across the country every month.

If New York City is the hare, San Francisco is the tortoise. But unlike the children’s story—where the tortoise uses its wits to outsmart the hare to win the race—victory is nowhere in sight for the Golden Gate City. As of December, employee visits to San Francisco offices were still 53% lower than they were during the same time in 2019.

Start spreading the news, New York’s leading the way

About two out of three workers are now spending some days in the office, typically coming in three to four days a week, according to an analysis from the Real Estate Board of New York reported by ABC. That offers some good news for the city’s economy: for example, more people are paying to use the city’s subways and buses to commute to work.

Still, return-to-work data is a far cry from capturing a city’s overall recovery from the pandemic. While New York’s workers are getting back to the office faster and in higher number than the nation overall, the city’s unemployment rate (5.4%) remains above the US average (3.7%). Some industries have recovered more than others, with health care, education, and finance leading the way, according to data compiled by local publication The City.

San Francisco’s gloomy corporate mood

San Francisco has had a notoriously hard time since the pandemic. Companies and residents alike have fled for sunnier weather, mostly in Austin, Texas and Miami, Florida.

In 2023, office vacancies hit record highs. Tech layoffs and remote work policies hollowed out its downtown business sector. Retail stores fled amid fears of rising crimesome founded and others not. Homelessness surged.

Some recent indicators have pointed to the possibility of foot traffic making its way back downtown, though. Major sports events are coming to San Francisco in the coming years, like the NBA All-Star Game in 2025 and the NFL Super Bowl in 2026. Plus, corporate events can keep hotels, restaurants, and other businesses humming: for one, Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference is also returning to the city this year.

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