Fridays at the office: Empty
“I don’t even like donuts,” the 25-year-old said. “I sat down and thought, ‘What am I going to do with this?’ ”
As white-collar workers across the country settle into hybrid work routines, one thing is becoming clear: No one wants to be in the office on Fridays.
The last day of the work week, once synonymous with long lunches and early departures, has increasingly become a day to avoid the office altogether. The trend, which was already brewing before the pandemic, has become widespread, even codified, in recent months and creates new challenges for employers.
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According to Kastle Systems, which provides security services for 2,600 buildings nationwide, only 30% of office workers entered work on Friday in June, the fewest of any day of the week. This is compared to 41% on Monday, the day when the participation rate is the second lowest, and 50% on Tuesday, when the largest share of workers are in the office.
“It’s becoming a bit of a cultural norm: you know nobody else goes to the office on Fridays, so maybe you’ll work from home too,” said Peter Cappelli, director of the University’s Center for Human Resources. from Pennsylvania to Wharton. School. “Even before the pandemic, people thought of Friday as a kind of blowout day. And now there’s a growing expectation that you can work from home to kickstart your weekend.
So far, employers seem split on whether to embrace a remote weekend or try to lure employees into the office. There are taco trucks and wine carts, costume contests and karaoke singing, all aimed at getting workers to ditch their couches for cubicles.
Even stuffy employers learn to let go. Citigroup has called Fridays “zoom-free”, while accounting giant KPMG is promising “camera-free Fridays” and allowing employees to go out on weekends at 3 p.m. in the summer.
“We want to make sure people get a break so they can recharge their batteries,” said Paul Knopp, managing director of KPMG US. “We give them a lot more autonomy over how they work – and where they work.”
For some workers, office assignments aren’t just strenuous. They are harmful.
Some start-ups and tech companies have started doing away with Fridays altogether. Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and online consignment store ThredUp are among a small but growing number of companies moving to a four-day work week that spans Monday through Thursday.
Executives at Bolt, a payments technology company in San Francisco, began experimenting with Workless Fridays last summer and quickly realized they had found a winning formula. Employees were more productive than before and returned to work on Mondays with renewed enthusiasm. In January, he permanently switched to a four-day work week.
“There was no hesitation: everyone said, ‘Sign me up,'” said Angela Bagley, the company’s employee experience manager. We kept doing the work. Managers were on board, people kept achieving their goals. And they come back on Monday energized and more engaged.
But for other companies, finding the right balance has been trickier.
“Employers recognize that it’s more difficult to bring people back, so they ask, ‘What can we do?’ said Julie Schweber, adviser to the Society of Human Resource Management. “The answer is basically: if you feed them, they will come. Food trucks, catered special events, ice cream parties, that’s what’s hot right now.
Online Optimism, a digital marketing company with offices in New Orleans, Atlanta and Washington, DC, has a Friday routine of free lunches and smooth happy hours starting at 4 p.m. sharp. The only rule: no hits.
Although the company has dropped all office work requirements, up to 80% of its 25 employees show up on days when there is free food, chief executive Flynn Zaiger said.
“Honestly, the best socializing is on Fridays,” he said. “Why not have a beer or two?” If people have to be a little less productive one day of the week, I’d rather it be Friday than Monday.
These changing standards are rippling through the economy and reshaping the business models of commercial real estate companies, parking lot operators and the many restaurants that cater to workers during the week. Declines in office work, particularly on Fridays, have led cafes to cut hours, delis to rethink staff, and bars like Pat’s Tap in Minneapolis to kick off happy hour earlier than ever — starting at 14 hours.
“Because they’re not in the office, people arrive early to grab their laptops while sipping a cocktail or two,” said general manager Dave Robinson. “At 4:30 or 5 p.m. on Fridays, we are completely full.”
But lunchtime haunts that once saw large crowds on Fridays say they are struggling. The decline was particularly striking at Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen in Chicago. Friday business is down 30% from pre-pandemic levels.
“It’s painful,” owner Dan Raskin said. “Before the pandemic, Friday was the busiest day of the week – people had an easier day at work and went out with their friends for lunch – but now it’s one of the slowest.”
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This is 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, although even when people come in they tend to stay shorter.
The desire to work from home on Fridays is pretty much universal, said Johnny Taylor, chief executive of the Society for Human Resource Management, an industry lobby group.
“When you ask employees when they want to work from home, everyone wants Fridays,” he said.
Taylor started toying with hybrid schedules in 2015, long before the pandemic forced businesses of all kinds to adapt. But his early experiences with Remote Fridays were a disaster. Employees interrupted their work and began to relax after lunch on Thursday. Productivity has fallen off a cliff.
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“Home Fridays have become institutionalized,” he said. “There really is no turning back.”
As employers grapple with this new reality, they are looking for more adaptable offices with more common spaces and huddle areas instead of traditional cubicles. Think comfier sofas, cafes, bookcases and patio workspaces.
“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. “Why make the trip if I’m just logging into Zoom, like I do at home? It’s up to organizations to have better conversations and choreograph their schedules. It can’t be random.
Perhaps most important — even more than the free food — Beaudoin said, is the prospect of interacting with colleagues. To this end, some companies are developing apps that give employees a quick overview of who will be in the office on a given day, as well as scheduled events and other perks, so they can decide whether it’s worth s dress up and make the trip.
“Just like no one likes to eat in an empty restaurant, no one wants to go to an empty office,” he said. “When people come to work, they want a real social connection.”
That turned out to be the case at MasterControl, a software company in Salt Lake City, where employees reconfigured their weekly schedule to account for weekend slowdowns. The company’s fitness groups, including its running and cycling clubs, moved gatherings from Friday to earlier in the week. Most meetings and training sessions now take place on Mondays and Tuesdays, when most employees are in the office.
“Fridays the turnout is definitely much lower – you can tell just by walking into the office and looking around,” said Alicia Garcia, the company’s chief culture officer. “We find that people really appreciate this flexibility.”
There are about 50 employees – out of 1,500 – at the Overstock headquarters in Utah every day. On Friday, however? Almost nobody.
The online retailer discourages meetings of any kind on Fridays. Most corporate employees choose to work longer days during the week so that they can take alternate Fridays off. But even for those who don’t, the last day of the workweek has become a much-needed respite from endless meetings and messaging, chief executive Jonathan Johnson said.
“Fridays are the busiest days,” said Johnson, who also works from home on that day. “The office is open if people want to come but we’re not pushing it.”
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Johnson limits herself to a Zoom meeting on Fridays, then catches up on her emails, writes a weekly letter to the company’s board, and plans for the week ahead.
Although sometimes it also makes room for more personal runs.
“I admit that I started at 4 p.m. last Friday to get my hair cut,” he said. “Tends to be a great catch-up day.”