TheVitality IndexBy watching days of the week, we’re seeing a new pulse emerge in our cities.
The Vitality Index
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By watching days of the week, we're seeing a new pulse emerge in our cities.
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It used to be so predictable, you could set your calendar by it: downtowns across North America would be bustling from Monday to Sunday, filled with hustling office workers and residents during weekdays and tourists and residents on weekends. But the pandemic has dramatically shifted traffic patterns, in a change that may point to broader and deeper trends about how we now work and play.
The quick story is the new downtown working week is Tuesday to Thursday. Our Vitality Index shows traffic to offices slows on Mondays and Fridays as workers take advantage of greater flexibility to stay closer to home. And weekends in cities are overflowing with people taking advantage of cultural and leisure activities.
It’s a revolution that not only reveals the changing motivations and behaviors of today’s workers but has major strategic implications for companies seeking to bring employees back to offices, for industries ranging from retail to tourism and travel, and for local and state governments as they think about the future of our major population centers.
When we work in offices is changing
We’ve previously noted the dramatic shift in office traffic patterns since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. More than two years after offices across North America were shuttered, total visitor volumes remain 53.9% lower than just before the pandemic—even after a modest increase in weekday office visitor volumes across major North American cities after Labor Day this year.
What that headline number fails to convey, though, is when workers are returning to offices. The Vitality Index shows office visitation is noticeably higher on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays: on those days, for example, office visitor volumes across North America are 49.1%, 51.4%, and 50.0% relative to the week preceding the lockdown, respectively.
So what happens on Mondays and Fridays? Employees are embracing hybrid and flexible work arrangements to work remotely, leaving office visitor volumes on Mondays 61.5% lower than the week preceding the pandemic lockdown of March 2020, and volumes on Fridays down 59.5%. This trend is especially prevalent in creative industries such as media and technology, where office visitation is -71.1% on Mondays and -63.8% on Fridays.
“People are still coming into the office,” said Laura Peterson, Senior Vice President at Avison Young. “It’s just those work patterns are not in the traditional nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday bell curve that they once were. And that’s been really helpful for clients to know and to understand.”
It should be noted that return-to-office traffic patterns aren’t universal. Cities that offer especially vibrant workplace experiences, such as Charleston, Miami and Nashville, have comparatively strong office visitation on Mondays (60.3% relative to the week preceding the lockdown) and Fridays (57.8%).
Play is booming—and changing
While office visits generally remain low compared with pre-pandemic levels, volumes for leisure activities—from museums to concerts to restaurants and everything in between—is booming. In fact, the Vitality Index shows visitor levels in downtown areas across North America on weekends is now well above pre-COVID-19 levels.
In Edmonton, for example, weekend visitor volumes are 39.6% higher than during the same period in 2021, anchored by the city’s vibrant Ice District and nearby museums. And Denver volumes are up 39.6% on weekdays compared with before the pandemic, demonstrating the strong demand for leisure activities generally.
That also means traffic on recreational public transportation has increased. After dropping nearly 89.0% in the first month of the pandemic, average traffic across North American transit has rebounded to 87.0% of where it was before lockdown. Airports have become especially busy, with visitation down just 8.1% versus early March 2020. Traffic around airports, which dropped dramatically at the start of the pandemic, has regained a measure of pre-pandemic normalcy. A few days of the week are seeing similar visitor volumes to before the pandemic: Mondays (-0.4%) and Tuesdays (+5.0%). But traffic is noticeably down on Fridays (-14.4%) and Saturdays (-19.6%).
At the sector level, healthcare has also been affected
Vitality Index data suggests that the disruptive impact of the pandemic has had an impact on when people make hospital visits. Many healthcare providers continue to impose stringent visitor protocols in the wake of the pandemic. Hospital visits are down as a result, with footfall in the low -20% range during the week and in the mid-teens range on weekends.
Why traffic patterns matter
Avison Young’s South Carolina and Savannah commercial real estate offices
Data on when people visit offices and other businesses is valuable for companies. For instance, companies can calibrate their energy consumption in offices to usage, realizing significant environmental benefits by turning down the heating or air conditioning or keeping lights off. And for businesses that depend on worker foot traffic, understanding traffic patterns can help determine optimal opening times and staffing needs.
“You can look at the index and figure out when the peak days are going to be,” said Chris Fraser, Managing Director of Avison Young’s South Carolina and Savannah commercial real estate offices. “For instance, how would this inform a bank about the number of assistants and associates they need in the bank to process transactions on any given day?”
The Vitality Index also provides critical information for local and state government leaders as they continue to reimagine the future of cities. Understanding when people want to be downtown—and when they don’t—can guide decisions on everything from transit schedules and parking capacity to marketing strategies for attracting tourists. These decisions are crucial in revitalizing our cities and restoring downtowns to bustling centers of activity throughout the week.CONNECT WITH US TO LEARN ABOUT THE VITALITY INDEX
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