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New Study Finds North American Workers Attend the Office Less Than Their Global Counterparts

Aug 18, 2023

Workers in North America are still only coming into the office for an average of 1.45 days a week (29%), a global study of nearly 120 workplaces in 22 countries by AWA, an independent global workplace consultancy, has found. This number means office attendance on the continent is slightly lower than the global average of 1.75 days a week.

 The responses, collated in April-May 2023, and representing organizations employing nearly 155,000 people worldwide, revealed little change in office attendance in North America since the previous edition of AWA’s Hybrid Working Index, undertaken in November 2022, rising only 1 percentage point from 28%.

AWA’s third Hybrid Working Index study has found that organizations are responding to the shift to hybrid working by improving their desk use in offices and reducing their real estate needs. Globally, 37% of employers said they were planning to reduce their office space through disposals, subletting or consolidation. This is a factor of the improved desk utilization, as organizations adapt to the new reality of hybrid working, with the percentage of desks in use on average rising to 48% from 33% a year ago.

However, AWA has found that three years since working practices changed at the start of the pandemic, 46% of offices do not have a hybrid working policy. Where employers mandate people to come into the office a specific number of days per week, the employees come in fewer days, indicating that ordering staff back doesn’t work.

Andrew Mawson, founder of AWA, said: “While there is a slight increase in office attendance, we believe it may have reached a steady state. Savvy employers are using the new reality to become more efficient, improving desk use and reducing their real estate needs. We expect this to result in a gradual build-up of empty office space over the next 5-10 years as leases expire, increasing the downward pressure on rents and asset values.”

The main findings of the Hybrid Index study are:

  • Globally average office attendance rose to 35%, up from 29% a year ago. This follows the trend shown in the second Hybrid Index in late 2022;
  • In North America there was no discernible change, with workers coming into the office less than 1.5 days a week on average;
  • In the UK workers are attending the office 1.6 days a week, up from 1.45 a year ago;
  • Office attendance is far higher in Latin America – 2.15 days – and Asia – 1.8 days;
  • Workers continue to prefer to come into the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, though Monday attendance has improved. On Friday less than a quarter of employers chose to travel in;
  • 70% of offices in the study have less than 40% attendance. Only five offices have attendance rates of over 60%;
  • Technology companies showed the largest shift in returning to the office, with 32% average attendance compared with 15% a year ago;
  • Nearly two-fifths of organizations (37%) said they would be looking to consolidate their office space due to reduced demand. This would be largely by subletting or through discussions with their landlord, though some are waiting for lease breaks or repurposing office space for other uses;
  • UK employers are the most efficient users of desks – needing just 59 desks per 100 employees – while the US is the least efficient – needing 107 desks per 100 employees;
  • Employees are not adhering to employers’ directives to attend the office. 46% of offices don’t have hybrid working policies, and they see people coming in on average 1.4 days a week, which is similar to firms that demand attendance two days a week. Where organizations mandate three- or four-days’ attendance, staff only come in two days a week.

Mawson added: “In our experience, hybrid working changes everything from employment contracts, skills and recruitment strategies to workplace design, security and more. While some have taken a ‘let’s see what happens’ approach to hybrid working since the end of the pandemic, we believe it’s now time for all organizations to develop holistic hybrid working policies and address a wide set of issues to prepare themselves for the future.”

CoreNet Global