Offices are increasingly empty on Fridays, so businesses should choose whether to incentivise employees' attendance or shut up shop for the day, says Graham Bird.
There was a time when Friday was the liveliest day in the office, but not anymore.
Our previous 31 office utilisation audits reports recorded the average office at 49 per cent occupancy from Monday to Thursday (a low percentage already). On a Friday, this drops to 33 per cent, with some use levels as low as 15 per cent.
But businesses are still running their buildings as if they were full. Over a year of Fridays that's a lot of wasted heating, lighting, cleaning, security and catering.
Then there is the impact of the empty office on how people work. For example, our studies show that younger people are less likely to have a suitable homeworking environment, therefore, older workers are more likely to work from home. This means that for a fifth of the week there's a significant drop in knowledge, experience and seniority.
The drop in staff attendance also affects atmosphere, morale, communication, productivity and team cohesion in the office.
So what can be done?
There are two options: try to revive Fridays by attracting staff back - or follow the trend and consider partial or full closure on Fridays.
Option 1: Bring back Fridays
If an organisation is keen to revive Friday attendance, it should try to incentivise staff. One organisation we worked with provided free breakfasts every Friday morning and very soon it became a much more popular day to come in.
Focusing on 'fun' for Fridays is effective. Consider massage sessions, music, lunchtime events, table tennis championships, and after-work social activities as examples. Injecting enjoyment into a Friday will make attendance more appealing.
Some firms enforce regular attendance or threaten an end to flexitime if Friday attendance remains low. But such behaviour is draconian and contradicts the meaning of 'flexibility'.
More effective would be to introduce a system in which Friday homeworking is booked through a rota to spread out attendance. This will also ensure that another day doesn't become 'empty'.
If the incentivised approach doesn't work, consider option two.
Option 2: Partial or complete shutdown
If you consider that only a fraction of the building is being used on Fridays, condensing to a single floor and partially closing the building is a logical solution.
Ideally, this would be achieved by introducing a flexible space with hot desk areas, removing the need to access other areas of the office (including individual desks and resources).
So the area or floor you open should be the best available space with ease of access and use of facilities, with the best natural light and views. The space should have adequate meeting, breakout and eating environments, so the activities and productivity of Friday staff aren't limited.
Opting for a paperless environment, with intelligent furniture, clear desk policies and meeting room booking systems will make partial closure more successful.
Consider also the working behaviour of staff. Our studies reveal that most of those attending on Fridays are 'lone-working contemplatively' - the office is not essential to their tasks. In this case, if office use is still significantly low, full office closure on a Friday could be the best workable option.
Trialling a four-day week Mounting evidence shows the success of the four-day week, offering several benefits to employees and solving the empty office problem. Granted, this won't be an option for all businesses or industries.
Microsoft recently trialled a four-day workweek by eliminating Fridays for 2,300 staff in its Japanese HQ. It saw:
- 40 per cent increase in productivity;
- 92 per cent increase in employees happiness; and
- 23 per cent reduction in electricity use.
It's important to acknowledge the evidence that work output needn't be defined by a rigid number of hours or set days. If Friday is already fading out, perhaps the best option is to go with what 74 per cent of British workers have already said they want.
Graham Bird is director of workplace consultancy Where Workplace Works