The post-pandemic new normal around the world
I have travelled to numerous cities around the world this year and witnessed first-hand how the post-pandemic new normal differs in each city.
Over the first half of this year, my revenge traveling mode proceeded at full-speed, bringing me to numerous cities around the world. While abroad, I had the chance to witness first-hand how different cities have adapted in their own way to the new post-pandemic normal. This is important to note because how people move around within cities has an impact on commercial real estate.
Strikingly, what was similar across all cities was that Mondays and Fridays in the office tended to be less crowded, while peak office crowds typically happened on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Nonetheless, it is also worth noting the nuanced differences for each city:
Though I did not “travel” to Hong Kong as I am based here, it is still worth writing about this city because the office here had been more crowded than ever in 2023. The office, which utilizes hot-desking, could get so packed that it would be difficult – or impossible – to find a seat. Mondays and Fridays were less crowded, though I estimate about 90% of desks would still be occupied. Fortunately, new workspaces were added later in the year.
I was in Singapore when one of the departments was on an overseas trip, so there was never an issue with getting a seat. Nonetheless, I could tell return-to-office levels here were strong because the lunch lines at the hawker centre would be exceedingly long every day, even on Mondays and Fridays. As a result, many colleagues would end up going for lunch as early as 11am!
I also never had an issue with getting a seat in the Tokyo office, but this could be due to the office having more seats than staff. Additionally, I could tell the office here has embraced hybrid working as many of my Tokyo colleagues would work remotely on one or two days out of the week. Regardless, the office buzzed with activity every day, as overall occupancy levels never seemed to dip below 80-90% on any given day.
The experience in New York was one to remember, especially because the office was nearly empty on Friday! In contrast, attendance was quite decent on Tuesday and Wednesday, with at least 80% occupancy, while I estimate occupancy on Monday and Thursday at around 40-50%.
I was in the London office for only three days, with Tuesday being the most crowded and most difficult day to find a seat. Monday, unsurprisingly, and Wednesday, surprisingly, were relatively emptier days.
The week I was in Seoul was sandwiched in between two public holidays, so the office was emptier than usual and I had no issues finding a seat. Nonetheless, occupancies each day were still decent at an estimated 70-90%.
Of course, my observations are merely observations, so I will conclude by showing some objective, hard data on metro ridership levels, which is another way to gauge and compare the post-pandemic new normal across cities around the world.
Figure 1: Metro ridership % difference from pre-pandemic levels
Source: JLL Research, various official sources, data as of August 2023