Dreaded Commute to the City Is Keeping Offices Mostly Empty

It isn’t the office that workers heading into the city despise. It’s the commute.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a surge in remote work, emptying out office towers as more people worked from home. Cities with longer commutes have taken the biggest economic hit, while urban areas where people live closer to work have a higher return-to-office rate, according to The Wall Street Journal’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data and building-access company Kastle Systems.

Recent polling of office workers supports the analysis. In a Gallup survey last summer, for example, 52% of those who want to work remotely listed avoiding commuting time as a top reason they don’t want to go to the office. Other common reasons, like well-being and flexibility, are also closely tied to the commute.

“I think it is the biggest factor,” said Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and School of Cities.