How often should we be at the office?

The last few years have been characterised by a more flexible approach as to where, when and how much we should work. But how does flexible work affect us, and how often should we be in the office? EFG takes a closer look at the benefits, challenges and risks of flexible working.

The question of mandatory attendance, hybrid or 100 per cent remote working continues to engage managers and employees alike. While many companies have found a compromise in hybrid work, where employees work both remotely and in the physical office, opinions differ as to whether hybrid working is sustainable. How often should we actually be at the office? Is it even possible to find a solution everyone is happy with? Nick Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University, has been researching remote working for 20 years. He notes that the number of people working partly from home has stabilised in the past two years. Today, one-third of American employees work remotely in some form – a percentage that Bloom believes will increase moving forward. Mostly, people work three days at the office and two remotely. The most popular office days are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, but as people go to the office mainly for social and professional interaction, it’s best that the employer decide the days employees attend.

Research in the United States shows that hybrid work lowers the likelihood of staff resigning by 35 per cent, compared to a five-day office week. Other American research shows that employees appreciate a switch to hybrid work as much as an 8 per cent pay increase. Nevertheless, some people believe that in just a few years we’ll be back at the office to about the same extent as before the pandemic. And according to a report by international consultants KPMG, it’s what a majority (67 per cent) of business leaders in 11 major industrial countries want. Out of a total of 2 700 respondents to a survey of its followers on LinkedIn when Swedish business magazine Chef asked whether it’s important to get employees back to the office, 21 per cent responded ‘Yes, full attendance’ while 53 per cent responded ‘Well, half the week is enough’. Almost 90 per cent of 1 300 managers polled would even consider rewarding employees who attend the workplace in person through higher pay, promotion or other benefits. Since July 2023, Amazon, which has been criticised for its personnel policy, has required employees to attend the workplace at least three days a week.

Work environments that motivate

While many managers want increased office attendance, we hear concerns expressed about the lack of in-depth analyses as to why employees should return to the office, and what they should achieve when there. Marco Checchi, partner and interior designer at Studio Stockholm, and Anna-Lena Norhammar, founder of Workspace Unlimited, believe that we should not ask ‘where and when’ but rather ‘how and why’. It’s important to find out the kind of work environment and culture that adds something positive to an organisation and motivates employees to come to the office. Many managers find it important to create this environment together with their employees. Others prioritise individual freedom of choice to adapt the set-up to meet different needs, and leave it to the individual to decide how often they attend the workplace.

Consequences of flexible working

As more and more people find a balance between working at the office or from home, surveys are cropping up about our experiences of remote and hybrid work. Among other things, the surveys show that many people enjoy greater satisfaction and work-life balance when working remotely, leading to happier employees and higher productivity. Others find it stressful, as it’s difficult to see where the working day ends and free time begins. Reports also show that remote working makes it more difficult for new employees to learn the job and workplace culture, and build relationships with colleagues. There are also studies showing that people who work remotely suffer more irritation than those who work at the office.

Remote working from different perspectives

Because employees often experience greater freedom and flexibility when they get to work from home, they are also more satisfied with their employer. On the other hand, not everyone has the right conditions for creating an ergonomic workplace in the home. Some employees need more responsibility from managers and colleagues to maintain productivity. People who appreciate the social aspects of the work environment and feel involved when they’re at the office, may be less comfortable with too much remote work. For employers, offering hybrid work can be a competitive advantage. There are also greater opportunities to recruit skilled employees when a company is not restricted to one physical location or geographical area. However, it can be a challenge to maintain a strong corporate culture and encourage commitment if many employees often work remotely.