Photo/Illutration An employee works in an office. (Chisato Matsumoto)

The percentage of employees working in offices in major cities in Japan didn’t increase in May, when COVID-19 was downgraded, a survey by private companies found.

The disease was downgraded to a less-severe category 5, the same level as seasonal influenza, under the infection diseases prevention law.

“People are gradually returning to offices, but how and where they work has diversified,” said Makoto Sakuma from NLI Research Institute. “The rate of people working at an office also varies depending on the area. Such differences might affect the property market in the future.”

The NLI Research Institute and X-Locations Inc., a data analysis company, jointly calculated the percentage of people working in offices using data on the locations of their mobile phones.

They recently surveyed the flow of people between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays in major business areas.

They found that in Tokyo in May, the percentage of people working at an office stood at 66 percent of the average seen on weekdays in January and February of 2020, when the pandemic had yet to hit Japan.

The percentage has remained almost the same as in September 2022, when it was 68 percent.

The figure was 41 percent in May 2020, when the government declared a state of emergency for the first time to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

After that, the number has fluctuated depending on the waves of infections.

Experts say even with restrictions on people's movements and actions being relaxed, it’s not clear how widespread employees returning to offices will become partly because teleworking is now a common way of working.

Other cities--Sapporo, Sendai, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka--saw the same trend as Tokyo, meaning the percentage of people working in offices in these cities didn’t rise in May.

However, the percentages are several points higher in these cities than in Tokyo.

Experts believe many people in these cities simply live closer to their offices. Teleworking is more common for those who live far from their offices.