As the COVID-19 pandemic has ebbed and flowed, one trend has largely stayed the course in the Capital Region: Some workers aren’t going into the office as much as they used to.
New data from the Baton Rouge Area Chamber shows workforce-related travel, or daily office commuting, for the metro area is down more than 17% in July compared to pre-pandemic levels.
BRAC compiled info from Google’s Community Mobility Reports, which measure the frequency and purpose of residents’ travel in a given community compared to January and February 2020, right before COVID hit the U.S. Beyond work commutes, the reports also track travel to parks, restaurants and stores, among other categories.
The chamber tracked data for Ascension, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana parishes.
Workplace travel for the Baton Rouge area has been lower than its pre-pandemic baseline ever since March 2020.
The dips were in the double digits every month until May, when travel was down 5.7%. The figure slipped to a 16.3% deficit the next month. BRAC officials attributed the fall from May to July to people taking vacations away from work.
Meanwhile, Capital Region visits to retail and recreational locations — places such as stores and parks — were up 7.8% in May and down 4.2% in July compared to pre-pandemic levels.
The data suggests more Baton Rouge area residents are working from home, BRAC officials said.
Workers have more leverage with new and current employers because labor markets are tight, said Andrew Fitzgerald, BRAC’s senior vice president of business intelligence.
As a result, more employees are negotiating for perks such as working from home whenever possible.
“If you’re kind of limited in terms of how much more you can pay your employees, this is the type of fringe benefit that may be a differentiating factor in the job seeker deciding where to work,” Fitzgerald said.
Higher gas prices are also having an impact on employee driver habits, Fitzgerald said.
“It’s definitely affecting not only employee behavior, but also employer behavior,” he said. “Somebody comes from Ascension to work at the Capitol, that’s a big drive and that costs a lot more than it did two years ago. Employers are going to have to start thinking about that for sure.”
Of all sectors of Baton Rouge’s workforce, office professionals are more likely to work from home because they have more flexibility, Fitzgerald said. Employees in retail, restaurants, manufacturing and construction — all major Capital Region employment sectors — don’t have that luxury.
“During the pandemic, office workers were able to just work remotely for the most part,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s going to vary by industry, and it’s going to vary by labor demand.”