As white-collar workers across the country settle into hybrid work routines, one thing is becoming clear: Nobody wants to be in the office on Fridays. The trend, which was already brewing before the pandemic, has become widely adopted, even codified, in recent months and is creating new challenges for employers.

Just 30% of office workers swiped into work on Fridays in June, the least of any weekday, according to Kastle Systems, which provides building security services for 2,600 buildings nationwide. That’s compared to 41% on Mondays, the day with the second-lowest turnout, and 50% on Tuesdays, when the biggest share of workers are in the office.

So far, employers appear divided on whether to embrace a remote end to the week or to try to lure employees to the office. There are taco trucks and wine carts, costume contests and karaoke sing-offs, all aimed at getting workers to give up their couches for cubicles.

However, even buttoned-up employers are learning to let loose. Citigroup Inc. has deemed Fridays “Zoom-free,” while accounting giant KPMG International Ltd. promises “no-camera Fridays” and lets employees clock out for the weekend at 3 p.m. in the summers.

“We want to make sure people are getting a break so they can recharge their batteries,” said Paul Knopp, chief executive of KPMG U.S. “We’re giving them a lot more agency about how they work — and where they work.”

Some startups and tech firms have begun doing away with Fridays altogether. Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and online consignment shop ThredUp are among a small but growing number of firms moving to a four-day workweek that runs from Monday to Thursday.

Executives at Bolt, a checkout technology company in San Francisco, began experimenting with no-work Fridays last summer and quickly realized they’d hit a winning formula. Employees were more productive than before, and came back to work on Mondays with new enthusiasm. In January, it switched to a four-day workweek for good.

But for other companies, finding the right balance has been trickier. “Employers recognize that it’s tougher to get people to come back in, so they’re asking, ‘What can we do?’ ” said Julie Schweber, an adviser at the Society of Human Resource Management. “The answer is basically: If you feed them, they will come. Food trucks, special catered events, ice cream socials, that’s what’s popular right now.”

Those shifting norms are rippling across the economy and reshaping business patterns for commercial real estate firms, parking garage operators and the many eateries that cater to workers during the week. The drop-off in office work, particularly on Fridays, has led coffee shops to reduce their hours, delis to rethink staffing and bars to kick off happy hour earlier than ever — some starting at 2 p.m.

But lunchtime haunts that once saw large crowds on Fridays say they’re struggling. The drop-off has been particularly stark at Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen in Chicago. Business on Fridays is down 30% from pre-pandemic levels.

That’s also the case at LAZ Parking, which operates more than 3,000 garages nationwide. Demand on Mondays and Fridays is much lower — by about 20% — than it is midweek, said Leo Villafana, the company’s vice president for the Mid-Atlantic region. Wednesdays are the busiest days, though even when people do come in, they tend to stay for shorter periods.

As employers confront this new reality, they’re looking for more adaptable offices with more communal spaces and gathering areas instead of traditional cubicles. Think more comfy couches, coffee bars, libraries and patio work spaces.

“What people don’t want is to work remotely, together, in the office,” said Lenny Beaudoin, global head of workplace and design at commercial real estate services firm CBRE Group Inc.. “Why make the trip if I’m just logging onto Zoom, like I do at home? It’s up to organizations to have better conversations and choreograph their schedules. It can’t be haphazard.”

Perhaps most important — even more so than free food — Beaudoin said, is the prospect of interacting with colleagues. To that end, some firms are developing apps that offer employees a quick snapshot of who will be in the office on any given day, along with planned events and other perks, so they can decide whether getting dressed and making the commute is worthwhile.

“Just like nobody likes to eat in an empty restaurant, nobody wants to go to an empty office,” he said. “When people do come in to work, they want a real social connection.”

Source: Financial Post