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Work Shift

Are New Yorkers Back in the Office? It Depends on Who’s Counting

Dueling — and sometimes conflicting — return-to-office data providers paint different pictures of who’s really back at their desks, so here’s a rundown that explains them all.    

An office building on Third Avenue in New York.

An office building on Third Avenue in New York.

Photographer: Amir Hamja/Bloomberg

From security-badge swipes to cell-phone pings to lunchtime salad orders, there are many ways to track New York City’s return to the office. None of them are perfect, some are misunderstood, and a few are new to the game, so here’s a quick rundown of the return-to-office (RTO) data providers.    

Probably the best-known RTO tracker, security company Kastle Systems Inc. provides building-access swipe cards to employees at over 2,600 office buildings in 138 cities, logging their movements in and out each day. In October 2020, Kastle started anonymizing and aggregating swipe card data from their buildings across 10 of their largest markets, christened it the “back-to-work barometer” and began publishing it weekly. Kastle says it has the “largest continuous data set following return to office activity,” and a big advantage is that it’s based on what people actually do, rather than what they think. It also picks up on regional variations in remote work, showing how workers in San Francisco, say, have been markedly slower to return than those in another technology hub, Austin.