The slow reopening of workplaces has proven divisive. Some employees have relished the opportunity to escape the confines of their home and to work alongside fellow humans once again. For others, the news foreshadows a dreaded return of the office 9-5 and all of its irritating minutiae.
Whatever your sentiments are on the remote work vs office debate, it appears as though workers aren't rushing to get back to their desks. According to an analysis of data by workspace booking platform Robin, US employees worked from the office an average of just 4.9 days per month in Q1 2022, with office capacity sitting at just 25% percent.
That's a lot of empty desks. But these figures don't tell the whole story.
For example, 95% of employees surveyed by Robin reported a "positive office experience", compared to just 1.18% who reported a negative one and 4.23% whose experience was neutral. This suggests that, when workers are choosing to go into the office to work, they are getting what they need out of their time there.
Remote working has been welcomed by many knowledge workers, who have gained back precious time by not being forced to commute to an office to perform work that can be performed just as well – if not better – at home.
Even so, some employees still value the social interaction and team-working benefits that a shared workspace facilitates, leading business leaders to question what role the office will play in new, post-pandemic models of work.
Robin's report doesn't go into exactly what aspects of the office employees are loving or loathing, yet it does reinforce the notion that most employees appreciate having a dedicated workspace to use when they need it, and that the office isn't necessarily going the same way as the dinosaurs.
Employees' use of the office is also on the rise – albeit at a gradual pace. Robin found that US employees worked from the office just 3.7 days per month in Q4 2021, and employees in both the US and Europe – where office capacity is ahead at 35% – experienced an 18% increase in the total number of employees working from the office in the first quarter of 2022.
Likewise, the "bounce rate" of employees – that is, the percentage of employees that only come into the office once during a 30-day period – dropped to 18% in Q1, indicating that workers are using the office more consistently.
Employees who had a positive experience during their first office visit came in 10% more often than those who had a negative experience, Robin found.
Office mandates 'a slap in the face'
Despite signs that some employees are enjoying time back in the office, Robin said there was "a growing chasm between management teams and employees" in regard to how office return plans are being managed.
Some financial firms, for example, have been monitoring office attendance by tracking how often employees swipe their building passes. Meanwhile, many large tech firms are insisting on office attendance or otherwise proposing pay cuts for those who wish to work remotely, despite the fact that tech workers have been amongst the most vocal in pushing back against office mandates.
Robin said such mandates felt "like a slap in the face" for tech workers who played key roles in getting businesses through the pandemic. "When businesses needed their people to go home and work their butts amid a pandemic, they did precisely that," the report said.
"Remote work's stigma was proven false. Employees could be trusted to be productive without direct oversight from their managers and could point to historic corporate earnings and profits as proof."
If employers do insist on getting employees back at their desks, workplace leaders "must create an open dialogue with their people to refine their office experience based on real-world feedback," said Robin. This includes reconfiguring workspaces to facilitate more spontaneous interactions among co-workers, and providing clear incentives for employees to return.
Some companies have done this by radically reimagining their physical workspaces to emphasise aspects of the office that offer the most value to employees, such as an emphasis on meeting and collaboration space. But there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
"Every business is forced to tackle this challenge head-on and make the best decisions under challenging circumstances," Robin's report said.
"It's under these auspices that we flag a handful of troubling trends the Robin data team is seeing emerge that workplace leaders must address quickly."