Return to Work—Or Take Long Weekends?

New figures show a wide gap between midweek and end-of-week attendance—more than some managers are comfortable with. 

Walk into a typical US office during the middle of the workweek, and you might wonder if the era of remote work ever happened. A majority of employees are back at their desks. But it’s a different story on Mondays and Fridays—a very different story.

In the major US metro areas, office occupancy is now well beyond 50% on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, according to the latest figures from Kastle Systems, which tracks keycard swipes at buildings. But that number drops to under 33% at the start and end of the week. During the week before Thanksgiving, workplace occupancy across the country was about 48% overall.

To some degree, these stats reflect the hybrid arrangements some leaders have expressly granted to employees. Other employers are content to give their workers the option of coming in whenever they want. “As long as the performance is there, that setup does work,” says Brian Bloom, Korn Ferry’s vice president of global benefits.

But other executives are wondering if people opting to work remotely on Mondays and Fridays are effectively creating a five-day weekend. The past month has seen a raft of firms demanding that their workers be in the office four or five days a week. “One of my clients is telling its workers to come in on Mondays and Fridays. They know that too many people would take those days off,” says John Long, a senior client partner and North America retail sector leader at Korn Ferry. At the same time, firms have cut back on job listings that advertise remote work.

Indeed, leaders seem to be tiring of the hybrid schedule. Executives reported 40% more work-related stress and anxiety, 20% worse work-life balance and 15% less job satisfaction over the past year, according to an October survey from Future Forum. Middle managers—who handle most hybrid issues—are feeling the strain in particular, demonstrating the lowest scores for work-life balance and the highest levels of stress and anxiety.

There’s also a growing feeling among some leaders that workers aren’t as productive outside the office. It’s not clear whether those concerns are valid. Labor productivity, as measured by the US government, fell in the first two quarters of the year but rebounded in the third. With more people back in the workforce, productivity is 2.4% higher overall than it was in the fall of 2021.

Experts say that recent improvements in software and assessment tools have made it much easier for companies to monitor the productivity of remote workers. “You can’t hide. You’ll either produce or get fired,” says Deepali Vyas, global head of Korn Ferry’s Fintech, Payments and Crypto practice. Still, she adds, “This nomadic culture is working for quite a number of people.”