UK employees now work in the office for just 1.5 days per week on average, leaving around two-thirds of desks unused, according to a study.
The Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) Hybrid Working Index study, which considered the working patterns of nearly 80,000 employees across 13 countries, found average office attendance is just 26%, but no more than a third of employees visited the office during mid-week peaks.
Globally, employees spend about 1.4 days per week in the office on average, but the UK-specific figures show a slightly higher rate of office attendance. In the UK, Mondays (19%) and Fridays (13%), however, are still very empty.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, employees spent on average nearly four days a week in the office.
Even when organisations insist their staff attend the workplace for three days a week, average attendance is still recorded at 2.1 days.
Office attendance and hybrid working
AWA managing director Andrew Mawson said: “What this global survey shows is that as a result of changes due to the pandemic the hybrid working genie is out of the bottle. Even where employers try to force staff into the office two or three days a week, employees don’t comply.
“Organisations need to look at the data showing that two-thirds of desks are unused and work with their employees to find smarter, more efficient ways of working that will fit in with how people want to live their lives, save money and be more environmentally friendly.
”We believe this will have a profound impact on the property market, which is not currently being recognised by the industry.”
Camilla Beamish, legal director in the employment team at law firm Cripps, said that employees who are not attending the office as much as their employer’s hybrid working policy mandates, the organisation should seek to understand why.
“Employers can either adopt a carrot or a stick approach to mandating employees’ attendance in the office. Encouraging employees’ attendance in the office by creating a welcoming office environment and organising social and charity events may work for some employees. For others, it will be important that managers are leading by example and regularly attending the office themselves,” she said.
Businesses could insist that any employees who do not attend the office as mandated make formal flexible working requests if they wish to work from home on a more permanent basis” – Camilla Beamish, Cripps
“Where a softer approach has not worked, then businesses could insist that any employees who do not attend the office as mandated make formal flexible working requests if they wish to work from home on a more permanent basis. These should be considered on a case-by case basis and can be refused for one of eight specified business reasons.
“As a last resort employers can consider taking disciplinary action against any employee who regularly flouts the rules. If disciplinary action is taken then consistency of approach across with workforce will be very important.”
By not offering hybrid working arrangements, employers could struggle to attract and retain staff, said Donna Gibb, head of HR commercial at employment law and HR support firm WorkNest.
“The main advice we give to clients is, once your hybrid policy is complete, communicate your ways of working to your company, highlight what benefits it brings to them and clearly address concerns. You could have employees submit questions or concerns they have through an anonymous survey and then produce a FAQs that is circulated to everyone. This will likely answer worries people have around things like discrimination, personal development, salary reviews and team building.”
She said WorkNest research found 40% of employees were worried about not being treated fairly when not always working in the office, including concerns about pay, reward and training. For this reason, she said managing performance was key.
“You must now manage and measure employee performance without really being able to observe what employees are spending their time on. Therefore, be results orientated,” she said.
“Increase the frequency of check-in conversations and make sure they are diarised. Make milestones tangible so all parties know what success looks like. Be available as a manager or team leader with clear office hours and available time slots dedicated to the team and finally, manage workloads more closely. It’s easy to see in the office if a person is overwhelmed or much busier than others, but it’s not as easy to spot when working remotely.”
Last week, a report published by JLL claimed that 55% of employees’ week is spent on “focused work” and urged employers to ensure they have spaces within their offices to allow staff to concentrate.