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Avison Young’s Vitality Index Helps Office Occupiers Decide When It’s Time to Return

For office occupiers looking to return to in-person working, the pandemic continues to throw curve balls—or, to bring in another sports metaphor, keeps moving the goalposts. This leads to the question of whether a return to the office is still on track and what office occupancy will look like compared to the seemingly distant past of March 2020. 

While there are no quick-and-easy answers, Avison Young has introduced a tool to keep track of where the recovery stands at present.  Its newly launched Vitality Index creates daily foot traffic estimates from representative office occupiers located in 20-plus different cities in the U.S. and Canada. 

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 go 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. 

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. That goes for tenants deciding future occupancy strategies as well as property owners looking at buy/hold/sell decisions and developers deciding on the next project. 

“Everyone is looking for the Goldilocks position – companies don’t want to move too early or too late,” she said. “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 shows a steady increase in foot traffic in major cities but is still trending significantly below 2019 levels. For example, as of Sept. 13 Los Angeles foot traffic was down 72.7% compared to pre-pandemic levels, putting it slightly behind New York and significantly ahead of Nashville and Washington, DC.  

The widespread return in the fall that many hoped for has yet to materialize—and may not happen as anticipated this year. In fact, the whole nature of office work has undergone a fundamental shift. 

“The definition of the office was changing long before COVID happened,” said 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 a dialogue that was already taking place in the corporate workplace, as employers and employees grappled with the best way to work, says Avison Young. It entails both the flexibility to work remotely and a place to gather with coworkers, but not an either/or scenario. This will significantly influence office designs and play a key role in recruitment. 

“We need downtowns,” Botting said. “We need offices without a doubt; that does not go away. 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.” 

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Inside The Story

Avison Young’s Botting

About Paul Bubny

Paul Bubny serves as Senior Content Director for Connect Commercial Real Estate, a role to which he brings 13-plus years’ experience covering the commercial real estate industry and 30-plus years in business-to-business journalism. In this capacity, he oversees daily operations while also reporting on both local/regional markets and national trends, covering individual transactions across all property types, as well as delving into broader subject matter. He produces 15-20 daily news stories per day and works with the Connect team and clients to develop longer-form content, ranging from Q&As to thought-leadership pieces. Prior to joining Connect, Paul was Managing Editor for both Real Estate Forum and GlobeSt.com at American Lawyer Media, where he oversaw operations at both publications while also producing daily news and feature-length articles. His tenure in B2B publishing stretches back into the print era, and he has served as Editor in Chief on four national trade publications. Since 1999, Paul has volunteered as the newsletter editor of passenger rail advocacy groups (one national, one local).

  • ◦Economy
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