Return to office rates have been hovering under 50% since Labor Day, but there are multiple ways to gauge the percentage of employees working from the office, and the data sources sometimes provide conflicting information.
- Some data is collected through security card swipes, cell phone pings, or lunchtime orders—but some data collection is more flawed than others.
- Kastle Systems is a commonly used return-to-office (RTO) data collector. The company tracks key card swipes in buildings.
- Despite tracking who is currently in the office, the system does not have data to compare the numbers to those before the pandemic.
- The security system is also not installed in every building, leaving a gap in Kastle’s knowledge.
- Placer.ai is new to RTO tracking, but not new to tracking human movement. The Israeli startup company has tracked customer traffic for Walmart and Target using cell phone pings.
- Business lobby groups also track RTO data through office surveys. While not a perfect system, this method does provide a wide range of data.
- RTO data is also collected through the number of workers taking the train, using rideshare programs, and ordering lunch.
Why it’s important
Companies are striving to get employees but into the office, but much data suggests that the return rate is still under 50%.
Gauging how successful RTO plans have been is valuable data for companies still trying to determine the best system for their offices.
Kastle Systems was among the first to start tracking the data. By logging security card swipes at office buildings, Kastle was able to determine how many employees were coming in to work on a given day. The widely used system provided data in several major cities.
However, the system has flaws. Not every business uses Kastle—including some larger office buildings. Kastle’s data also fails to account for the fact that not all office workers were in the office full time pre-pandemic.
The Israeli startup Placer is a relatively new method of tracking RTO, but the company has a history of providing valuable foot traffic information to major retailers. By using cell phone pings, the company can estimate how many employees are in a building.
However, Placer’s system cannot guarantee that each ping is an employee rather than a visitor to the building.
Some groups use self-reporting surveys to determine how many employees are returning. While these surveys can be flawed due to human error, they do provide a glimpse into employer perception. Other groups like WFH Research track employee sentiment about RTO.
Restaurants and commuting habits give another clue to who is actually returning to the office. While not every employee uses the train or rideshare programs, an increase or decrease in traffic can give insight into how many employees are coming in.
The lunchtime rush is an additional data point to help employers determine how many employees are actually arriving.