North America Retail Sector Leader & Senior Client Partner
Back to the Office—But on What Day(s)?
If it’s Tuesday, you might want to come into the office if your firm offers such options. The same for Wednesday. But Friday and to a lesser extent, Monday, well, you may not be missed working from home at all.
The year may have started off with many firms putting their foot down on requiring return to office. But at the latest count, office occupancy in the US still hangs around 50% of pre-pandemic levels. That’s the level that it reached in February, according to Kastle Systems, which monitors key swipes at office buildings around the country. The reason is simple: Most firms with back-to-the-office policies are only stipulating that people are back the majority of the time—but not which day.
At the end of spring, 62% of professionals surveyed by Korn Ferry said their employers had mandated a return to the office in one form or another. A plurality, 38%, said they were required to work in the office three days a week, while only 14% said five days a week. “Most firms put their policies in place and haven’t seen any reason to revisit them right now,” says John Long, sector leader in Korn Ferry’s North America Retail practice.
But in the process, the data suggests that each day has its own trends—and quirks. Korn Ferry took at the data and reasons behind there’s a hierarchy among the days of the week.
It’s a bad case of the Mondays.
Fewer than half of offices are occupied, on average, on Mondays, according to Kastle. Until recently, many firms haven’t pushed employees to work in-office on Mondays, but over the spring some firms made more of a concerted effort, concerned that too many employees were starting the workweek unproductively.
Companies that have had success getting people back to the office often have had their schedules hinge around Mondays. For instance, it was relatively easy to get payroll department employees of a large field-safety firm into the office on Mondays because the firm traditionally ran its payroll that day. “It’s ironic that the company has thousands of employees who almost never work at the office, but for this group the decision makes sense,” says Brittney Molitor, an executive senior partner in Korn Ferry’s Human Resources Center of Excellence.
Tuesday and Wednesdays are office days.
Offices are about 60% occupied on the 2nd day of the workweek, according to Kastle, the most of any traditional workday. That’s an increase from about 50% from last summer and nearly 56% last fall.
For example, in the Chicago area, office occupancy now averages 55% for the entire week. But occupancy spikes to 69% in the Second City on Tuesdays.
While both Tuesdays and Wednesdays were neck-and-neck for most occupied office days, Tuesday has gained a slight edge in 2023. Wednesday’s occupancy rate is slightly below 60%, the second highest rate. “You get a lot of people feeling good about the balance middle of the week,” says Greg Button, Korn Ferry’s president of the firm’s Global Healthcare Services practice.
Thursday is a quandary.
Last summer, Thursday was barely behind Tuesday and Wednesday in terms of average office occupancy. Now, while Thursday occupancy has increased to slightly above 50%, it’s lagging further behind the other two days. The discrepancy is a little puzzling to researchers, since many hybrid plans often revolve around three in-office days, of which Thursday is one.
To some degree, family obligations might be keeping employees from going to the office Thursdays, says David Vied, Korn Ferry’s global sector leader for the firm’s Medical Devices and Diagnostics practice. For whatever reason, Thursdays often end up the days to schedule doctor visits, reviews with financial professionals, or other errands more difficult to do on weekends. “We’re assuming that the employee is in control of this and sometimes the family really is,” Vied says.
Nationwide, only about one third of offices are occupied on Fridays, which is about the same rate Friday was getting last summer. Nowhere in the United States is the occupancy rate higher than 44% (Houston). Getting New Yorkers to work at the office on Friday seems like a lost cause for now – office occupancy in the Big Apple on Fridays is less than 24% right now, even lower than the already-low 26% in February. The percentages might be lower, experts say, if there weren’t some employees who actually relish the chance of working in the office with so few people around.
To be sure, “Summer Fridays,” where people either took off or, at the least, took off early, have been around for decades. Still, the Friday occupancy rate averaged higher than 85% pre-pandemic.
But experts say that getting people back on Fridays might not be impossible. It just might take time and a little disruption. A client of Long’s demanded its workers come in on Mondays and Fridays because the CEO believed too many remote workers were not really working those days, effectively creating four- or five- day weekends.
Employees complained loudly, Long says, and a bunch of people quit. That was OK, Long says. “The CEO didn’t want people at the company who wouldn’t do it.” The remaining employees and the recruits that replaced the departed workers have been coming into work on Mondays and Fridays.
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