In understanding the impact COVID-19 is having on where people are working today, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
Cloudflare, a provider of internet optimization, security, and availability services, has produced data visualizations of pre- and post-COVID-19 internet usage patterns that show that inner cities, once-crowded with office workers, have emptied out.
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“What we can see from the patterns in traffic is that people are accessing the internet more at home, in suburban and rural areas, and less from traditional city centers and business parks where offices typically are,” said John Graham-Cumming, CTO of Cloudflare. “The drop in usage in Manhattan, in particular the southernmost part of the city where Wall Street is, is a good example of this.”
Cloudflare’s visualizations compare internet usage patterns from Wednesday, Feb. 19, before work-from-home orders were issued by companies and governments, and Wednesday, March 18, after people began working from home en masse. Cloudflare found that internet traffic was down 10% for office areas, and up 20% for residential areas, which may not seem like a dramatic shift but the numbers can be deceiving, he said.
“[The] … world isn’t divided into working areas and living areas, so we’ll see drops in the center of cities but not gigantic drops because people also live there,” Graham-Cumming said. “Some companies force their employees to use VPNs [virtual private networks] that send all traffic back to corporate HQ so, despite being at home, their Internet use is coming from the corporate location. There’s a lot of automated Internet use, think [internet of things] IoT systems in buildings, that don’t move location.”
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These visualizations align with a data set produced by office-space utilization company VergeSense that shows that beginning in late February, before WFH orders we’re handed out to millions of employees around the globe, people were already beginning to telecommute more while practicing social distancing in the office.
The most recent data, collected through Tuesday, March 24, shows that office spaces are now mostly empty.
“The Monday and Tuesday the week prior [to March 23] were 80% below historical levels of office use,” VergeSense said. “This past Monday, March 23, and Tuesday, March 24, were 91% below the historical average for employee flow within workplaces.”
New York City, the current epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US, shows the most striking change (top), with all of lower Manhattan showing red.
The image of the core of London, below, clearly shows a large drop off in central London while all the areas around it, where people commute by train, have experienced increased traffic. Other red spots indicate airports and large business parks with offices.
The image of the Bay Area of San Francisco is red because many people live on the peninsula and work in the city. Large drops in Sunnyvale and San Jose are also apparent.
In Washington state, the effect of large employers like Microsoft sending their staff home, is clearly visible.
Though Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolis, it is clear where the centers of business are located based on the current levels of internet inactivity in those once-crowded areas.