RTO: Office occupancy up after Labor Day mandates kick in


Employers and their staff have stopped playing nicely in the return-to-office war: bosses want employees back at their desks, and many gave a Labor Day deadline to do it.

It appears the tactic has worked, with new data revealing office occupancy spiked following the public holiday as more mandates came into effect.

The in-person versus hybrid and remote work battle has fierce advocates on both sides.

The likes of JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon, billionaire mogul Michael Bloomberg and the world’d richest man Elon Musk, are on one side. They insist their employees need to be in the office for collaboration and equality among staff.

On the other hand employees are determined to cling on to their new-found freedom: it’s helped working moms get a foothold in the workforce, much-debated productivity appears to be on the up, and employees are threatening to leave if their work-life balance is one again thrown out of whack.

For now, at least, it appears that the bosses are getting their way. Data from security provider Kastle Systems found office occupancy was up to more than 50% in the weeks following Labor Day—its highest level since July.

In-person working was understandably down for the week including Labor Day, with employees logging off on Sept. 4.

However, during the week following that, occupancy was up across all 10 of the major metropolitan areas that Kastle tracks by gathering data from key card data and fob check-ins.

The biggest rise was in New York, which in the week including Sept. 13 saw average occupancy increase 7.5% from the week prior.

That was followed by Washington D.C., Philadelphia and San Jose, which all rose 4.1% compared to the week before.

While Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Houston, Austin and L.A. all saw smaller rises, each still saw rates increase by between 1.6% and 3%, bringing the average occupancy rate across the U.S. to 50.3%.

“This post-Labor Day jump in occupancy mirrors the pattern from the past three years,” said Kastle Systems. “If the pattern continues, the barometer may reach a new, higher base level as more workers return to the office.”

Carrot or stick?

The data from Kastle suggests there is still a degree of flexibility for employees, who are choosing to either start or end their week by working from home

The report shows Tuesday is the most popular day to go to the office, followed by Wednesday, Thursday, then Monday. Friday is the least popular day to commute to the office.

Companies who want to up their in-person rates need to remember the “draw not chore” rule, Chris Preston, founder of U.K. based consultancy The Culture Builders, told Fortune.

If working in the office has no benefit—be it positive interactions, a nice space, or a sense of community—then the mood, at best, can be “dull and at worst, toxic.”

“If there’s no draw to come in and you mandate a return to office you just have people coming in to surf the internet for new jobs and moan about the company,” said Preston. “Remote work has been used by many to avoid toxic workplaces.”

On the other hand, if employees are engaged with their managers, the mission of the company and the work they’re doing, calls for more time in-person is received with far less pushback.

On top of that, if employers have an RTO mandate they need to look at how they can be “flexible” around the edges of the rule: be it offering more fluid working hours to parents, or creating smaller “hubs” for employees who live far away from their head office.

“If you’re more flexible with people than they’re more likely to give more back. If not, you just end up with a team made up of people who can commute as opposed to those who have the most skills and experience for the job,” Preston added.

“If you have good company culture the carrot works, if it’s bad you have to use the stick. The only issue is that becomes perpetuating, so you have to ask the question about redressing a bad company culture.”.

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