Forget TGIF, 2023 workers are shouting TGIT! Thursday is now the most popular day for after work socials according to recent TFL data. Furthermore, office occupancy has been shown to peak at 46% on Wednesdays, compared to only 35% on Mondays and less than 30% on Fridays. It is becoming clear that our patterns of working have undergone a significant shift.
Spending Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in the office is becoming the standard working pattern, with Mondays and Fridays spent working from home. This is more than a trend. It’s become a movement. A movement that is causing a seismic shift in employee behaviour, reshaping office landscapes across the country.
But, as with most things, there’s a catch. What employees find a welcome change, organisations find a challenge. When office use is unpredictable and property costs rise, – what do we do with our buildings on the unwanted Mondays and Fridays?
Challenges of the empty office
More than one-third of desks in offices around the globe are unoccupied all week, and many organisations have long-term leases that they are still obligated to pay, even if the space is empty. Many are downsizing their office spaces to cut costs as a result of low occupancy levels. ESG ratings of office spaces are driving a ”Flight to Quality” as organisations such as HSBC plan to move into smaller, greener and more connected buildings.
Office setups with assigned desks for each employee must give way to a leaner, shared desk model. This shift is necessary to minimise unused office space while accommodating more employees throughout the week, with more efficient use of real estate assets. Put simply, organisations must do more with their empty space.
But that’s only half the story.
The carrot vs The stick
Let’s start with a question: what is the purpose of the office? It needs to be more than just a desk. The office can be a destination designed to connect with employees, delight visitors and showcase the company brand. The office can provide a wide range of various work settings for different types of work: collaboration, communication, creativity and concentration. Superbly designed offices understand the need for quiet spaces for focused work, coupled with the buzz of collaborative settings to bring people together.
When executed well, these types of offices make you feel inspired and energised by the experience. You want to go back again and reconnect with colleagues. The office can become more.
Taking the approach of an office magnet can create opportunities to distribute office occupancy more evenly throughout the week too. For example, organisations might encourage employees with unique incentives and experiences. From team “lunch and learns” and curated in-office events to on-site childcare services for staff and anchor days – where each team is encouraged to attend a suggested day of the week to facilitate in-office collaboration – these incentives act as a great way to prevent overcrowding on certain days.
In contrast, the mandate approach sets a different tone with specific attendance requirements. While methods such as tying pay to office attendance might seem effective, it’s a less popular option amongst today’s workforce that values flexibility and would seek work elsewhere to find it.
Employers must foster collaboration, allowing people to choose to be part of something that provides them value, rather than being forced to. The office is not just a place to work, but a place where employees want to be.
And to enable this effectively, we need a way of organising people’s schedules to make this coming together easier.
Technology at the heart of change
Over three quarters (76.8%) of employees consider technology as the most important element for success in a hybrid work model. It plays a vital role in helping organisations adapt to the evolving workweek where tools and systems can facilitate scheduling, monitor occupancy and provide data-driven insights to optimise office usage.
Employing technology like workplace reservations software, colleagues can understand when their key people are planning to come into the office and plan their lives accordingly. Organisations also gain insight into occupancy patterns that allows them to right-size the workplace to power productivity.
With an effective workplace reservations system, businesses can provide users with greater functionality for office attendance with real-time occupancy updates or mobile check-ins for a smooth booking experience. It empowers employees to search for and reserve desk space before heading to the office, guaranteeing them workspaces alongside their colleagues with the right resources, precisely when and where they need it, on any day of the week.
But technology’s role doesn’t end there. It can employ gentle reminders, effectively ensuring that employees stay committed to their in-office schedules. Picture this: a notification pops up on an employee’s desktop while working from home, almost like a digital tap on the shoulder, saying, “Beth is in the office on Friday, would you like to join?”. These subtle nudges serve as digital breadcrumbs that can lead employees back to the office, keeping them engaged and encouraging collaboration through office days.
Even email updates about upcoming in-office events can remind employees of the tangible benefits of being in the office, while simultaneously creating an aura of excitement and anticipation. It’s a digital cue that makes the office the place to be.
Finding the balance
With workers valuing the flexibility and autonomy that hybrid working has introduced, the chances of reverting to the traditional workweek are slim to none. And frankly, this is a good thing.
However, it is essential that this transformation is handled in the right way, ensuring that the new working patterns work for all. The transition to a three-day office week means that office occupancy must be managed effectively – while also making the most of the spaces on Mondays and Fridays.
The solution? Technology. The leveller that balances the scales, providing organisations with the tools to synchronise office attendance seamlessly, optimise space utilisation and gather valuable insights. However, technology on its own isn’t the ultimate answer. Organisations must look at their own policies and internal processes to find the right way to rekindle the spirit of in-office collaboration throughout the week.
Simply put, the focus shouldn’t be on breaking the midweek mould. Instead, it’s time to focus on unlocking the full potential of our workplaces. And now, organisations finally have the tools to do so.
For over fourteen years I have been passionate about collaborating with Real Estate and Workplace professionals to achieve their goals around space utilisation, improved workplace and visitor experience, and optimising overall real estate management.
Throughout my career I have combined creativity, leadership and passion for technology to deliver effective results. I have co-authored several white papers encompassing workplace design, flexible working, customer experience, space utilisation and intelligent buildings. I have been privileged to be invited to present at several industry events such as IFMA, CoreNet, Worktech and Smart Workplace Design summit.