The Vitality Index: Measuring the pace of our return to downtowns

As the calendar turns to September, companies across North America are faced with a long-anticipated question: is a return to the office still on track? If it is delayed, for how much longer? Will office occupancy ever look the same again?

There are, of course, no certain answers to these questions. COVID-19 continues to throw curve balls our way, with wide variations in infection rates. At the same time, the dynamic between employers and employees regarding where to work has shifted, likely for good.

But what if there was a real-time window into exactly what was happening in major cities and leading industries across North America? What if we could see the volume of foot traffic updated constantly and compare it to pre-pandemic levels?

Now, you can. Avison Young has launched The Vitality Index, a database that creates daily foot traffic estimates from representative office occupiers located in 20+ different cities.

The Vitality Index utilizes data from Orbital Insight, Avison Young’s geospatial intelligence and location analytics partner. Orbital Insight aggregates anonymized cell phone location data geofenced to unique locations, to estimate total foot traffic in each city and industry. The data goes back to June 2019 in the U.S. and the beginning of 2020 in Canada, which allows comparisons to pre-pandemic levels. Leveraging Orbital Insight’s data, Avison Young has created an interactive AVANT by Avison Young dashboard that allows easy, real-time access to the analysis to help guide through uncertain times.

For Sheila Botting, Avison Young’s President of Professional Services for the Americas, the insights gained from The Vitality Index are invaluable to all parts of commercial real estate – from companies deciding future occupancy strategies to property owners looking at buy/hold/sell decisions to developers deciding on the next project.

“Everyone is looking for the Goldilocks position – companies don’t want to move too early or too late. The Vitality Index is wildly important for people looking to understand what is happening in real-time and over time in major markets. It measures the pace so that leaders can make decisions based on concrete information and analytics.”

Currently, The Vitality Index is showing a steady increase in foot traffic in major cities but is still trending significantly below 2019 levels. The widespread return in the fall that many hoped for has yet to materialize. In fact, the whole nature of office work has undergone a fundamental shift.

“The definition of the office was changing long before COVID happened,” says Botting. “COVID essentially represented the largest change management activity across the globe. Suddenly people realized that they could work anywhere, anytime, anyplace.”

This has accelerated what was already taking place in the corporate workplace, as employers and employees grappled with the best way to work. It means both the flexibility to work remotely and a place to gather with coworkers, but not just one or the other. This will significantly influence office designs and play a key role in recruitment.

“We need downtowns. We need offices without a doubt, that does not go away,” says Botting. “But the scale and purpose of these offices does change. It's going to scale up or scale down for any organization based on business purpose, culture, how people work and, ultimately, the role of the office.”

Meanwhile, as the recovery from the pandemic continues and companies chart an uncertain future regarding the physical workplace, any insight from real-time information like The Vitality Index will be critical. 

“One size does not fit all,” Botting notes. “Each organization is different. Each employee is different. And when you put it all together, we will need more dynamic environments that will allow us all to move forward. Avison Young’s Vitality Index helps business leaders make decisions based on real time data and understand key trends across other organizations and the marketplace overall.”

About the Vitality Index

The Vitality Index is a real-time window into the movement of people in major cities across North America. Working with its partner Orbital Insight, Avison Young’s data team has analyzed anonymized cell phone location data geofenced to unique locations – aggregated to estimate total foot traffic in major North America cities. The resulting AVANT by Avison Young dashboard allows easy, real-time access to comparisons to pre-pandemic levels to help guide companies and investors through uncertain times.

Key Contacts

Craig Leibowitz

    • Executive Director, Innovation and Insight Advisory, U.S.
[email protected]

Sheila Botting

    • Principal & President Americas, Professional Services
[email protected]

Julian Adams

    • GIS Practice and Product Lead
    • Global Services
[email protected]