Empty Offices? Here’s How to Fill Them Without Mandates

Micah Remley
Micah Remley
Published on 
11.23.2022

workplace, hybrid work, workplace experience

Sick of staring at an empty sea of desks? Office spaces across industries are struggling with occupancy levels as the switch to hybrid work has leaned more towards remote than in-person

Hybrid work introduced more flexibility for employees, but it also upended the predictability of office activity. That lack of predictability has impacted the very reason why people go into the office: to connect with other employees in-person

With leaders struggling to find a way to get people back into offices regularly, without resorting to dreaded mandates, we’ve laid out four tactics, catered to executives, for getting people back in office and back together. 

1. Lead by Example

Company culture can attract new employees, retain top talent and propel your business forward. It’s such a powerful tool that nearly half of business leaders surveyed by PWC plan to invest in company initiatives around culture, value and purpose. 

Office attendance isn’t just about getting people in seats, it’s about creating a community of people driven by the same goals, values, and mission. As a leader, you set the tone for how people interact with the office and, ultimately, what it is used for. 

Can you boast people-first values without offering flexibility? Can you claim a strong company culture without office seats filled? If you want teams to be engaged with the workplace and each other then consider showing them what that looks like. 

Think about how you are using the office. Most leaders use the office regularly, but once they’re there they typically run from meeting to meeting or are holed away in an office somewhere.

The biggest impact of the office comes from the time people get to spend around one another, make it clear through your actions that you value and encourage these touchpoints. Employees will take your lead. 

Employees want face time with leaders and the office can be the catalyst. Just take a look at these stats: 

  • 78% of Gen Z and Millennials come to the office to connect with senior leadership. (Microsoft)
  • One-on-one check-ins from leadership are the second most effective way to maintain a strong company culture. (CEO Confidence Index)
  • 80% of employees come into the workplace to get time with their direct managers. (Microsoft)

Prioritize making yourself available to other people during your time in the office. You’ll make better connections while encouraging the rest of the organization to do the same.

Consider this: At Robin, our leadership is available when they're in the office and make a concerted effort to schedule open time around breakfast, lunch, and other times so they can sit with employees for unstructured face time.  

2. Understand What Drives Office Attendance

It’s important to consider what barriers might come between your people and your office space. For some people the commute is a massive detractor, for others it might be affordable childcare. When you understand the friction points you are better equipped to address them. 

The first step: talk to your employees. What currently sways their decision to come into the office? Are your current incentives working? Or are there some perks you’re investing in that really aren’t swaying the needle?

Some employees will be driven by perks like free lunch, others will be more interested in face time with leadership or childcare coverage. Whatever the preferences, listen, learn and facilitate the right kinds of touchpoints for your teams. 

We’ve found that connection with other people tends to be a big driver of office attendance. Employees desire more in-person interactions:

  • 84% of employees would be motivated to go to the office by the promise of socializing with coworkers
  • 64% of employees said they would be more likely to come into the office if they knew their team would be there

In a world lacking connection, the office can, and should, be a place for people to build relationships. For leaders, the job here is to make it easier for your teams to connect. Whether that be through giving them visibility into who will be in, when or by prioritizing planning social events and networking opportunities.

CEOs also find regular team building activities to be one of the top three most effective tools for maintaining morale and a strong culture, according to the CEO Confidence Index. When creating plans to bring teams back together, it is worth looking beyond the traditional perks and finding ways to facilitate more social opportunities between employees.

Consider this: The best way to build a workplace your people want to be in is by asking them what they want. If 74% of employees miss having an office community, according to Axios, then maybe the key to improving attendance starts with building better relationships.

3. Give Your Workplace Teams The Right Tools

Did you know nine out of ten executives envision a hybrid office model going forward? Yet, most of these leaders don’t quite know how to carry that out, according to McKinsey. In order to truly facilitate connection and great workplace experiences, you need the right technology in place. 

The team overseeing your workplace needs tools to monitor, measure and adjust their workplace strategy - from processes to resources to metrics of success. With the right tools in place, your workplace team will have access to valuable data points and management tools to observe, learn and adjust workplace plans based on how the office is actually being used.  

(PS: Wondering what a workplace experience team can do? We’ve got some tips for forming the right team, check them out.)

If you can better measure the success (or failures) of your plans, you are better equipped to make the right changes to your strategy to draw people into the office.  In the early days, people were focused on occupancy numbers. Today, leaders are looking at success a little differently: over 80% of senior decision makers measure the success of their workplace strategies on employee satisfaction and worker productivity. 

Bonus tip: Let your workplace teams know they shouldn’t be afraid to try new metrics, test new ideas and fail. The best performing companies are the ones willing to take a risk. According to McKinsey, companies with the highest levels of productivity are the ones that continuously iterate on their hybrid work plans as things change. 

Consider this: Over 70% of leaders that use a workplace experience platform feel confident in executing their hybrid work strategy. Technology can power better workplace experiences, you just need to ensure you are investing in the right tools. 

4. Make it Easy for Employees to Interact with the Office

Your employees also need the right tools to interact with the office and plan their work-week, from booking desks to reserving rooms to submitting feedback. The wrong technology can have a serious negative impact. In an Ivanti survey, over 60% of people claimed that interaction with technical tools directly impacts workforce morale and two-thirds said they could be more productive if only they had access to better solutions.

Creating an office worth commuting for is one thing, enabling your people to use that space effectively is another crucial step in your workplace equation. The right technology makes it easier for employees to interact with the office and connect with each other. 

Empowering teams with the right information can be the difference between a sea of empty desks and a lively office space. In fact, according to the CEO Confidence Index, flexible scheduling is the most effective method for maintaining culture and morale.

Consider this: When using Robin, employees are 2.5x more likely to come into the office. Technology can power office attendance, you just need to ensure you are investing in the right tools. 

Make Your Hybrid Work Strategy Stick

There’s no doubt that the office plays an important role in any company culture. When people can connect with each other, they form the relationships that help businesses innovate. 

Here’s a quick recap of where to start: 

  1. Lead by example, change starts with YOU 
  2. Find what drives office attendance and double down on that 
  3. Ensure your workplace teams have the right tools 
  4. Make it easier for employees to engage with the office

To learn more about what motivates employees to come into the office, check out our latest report.