Australia offers preview into employees’ office preferences

Eric Lani
Eric Lani

This week we're launching Office Pass to help organizations successfully manage their hybrid workplace. We're also unveiling the first installment of our Return to the Office Tracker (RTOT) series to highlight trends we see as companies rediscover the office.

As companies like Google, Amazon, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs begin putting return-to-office plans in motion, many executives across the U.S. continue to grapple with how and when to reopen offices.

Our research team is analyzing millions of real-life office and desk bookings from our clients around the world to identify significant trends workplace leaders should consider as they begin to reopen their offices. We will issue a new report every 4-6 weeks, so make sure you regularly check in with the Robin blog to discover what is – and isn’t – working for businesses as they navigate this delicate process. 

Australia and New Zealand offer U.S. businesses a window into the future

Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) are arguably the two countries with the best handle on COVID at this time. In fact, as of March 31, Australia had eight new COVID cases throughout the entire country. Our data team estimates that ANZ businesses are roughly three months ahead of North America in their Return to office (RTO) plans, giving us an excellent opportunity to take a look at a hybrid workplace in its infancy.

  • If North America continues to advance at its present rate, Robin’s data team expects people to return to the office an average of twice a week starting in late April. 
  • The majority of ANZ employees go into the office an average of 2 days a week, preferring to go early in the week (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday) 
  • Despite the minimal COVID infection rates, only 20% of businesses have their entire workforce back in the office full-time

It’s interesting to see how the business community has translated the ANZ lawmakers’ pragmatic approach to COVID containment. To us, this demonstrates caution by both employees and employers as each is reluctant to go “back to normal” while there’s still a risk of infection.

As people return to the office, we also expect to see an office resource crunch. As of now, the average conference room is booked only twice a day for about 1.5 hours in a typical workday, but workplace leaders need to think about what policies and technologies they’ll have in place to manage coveted spaces and tools once people return in more significant numbers. 

North America’s slow, uneven return to the office

There are positive signs that North America is gaining control over COVID – 4 million vaccines in a day! – but most businesses are still looking at realistically bringing employees back to the office in the late summer at the earliest. However, there are some exciting trends worth following already, including:

  • Workers in the ANZ, Asia-Pacific, and Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA) regions are returning to the office at a much higher rate than North America since October 2020
  • Similar to ANZ, Tuesday is North American employees’ favorite day to work in the office, followed by Monday and Wednesday
  • Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina are returning the most people to the office in early 2021; Iowa, Nebraska, and Ohio are the states with the least amount of people working from the office.
  • Despite removing all COVID restrictions in early March, Texas ranks just 13th among all states in employees working in the office. The Lone Star State ranks one spot behind Massachusetts, a state that has executed a much more systematic reopening plan

Unprepared businesses will experience a high “employee bounce rate”

Robin’s data team found that nearly 15% of global employees went into their office once and either never returned or came back about once a month. The team dubbed this phenomenon the “employee bounce rate” and will be tracking it in the coming months because we feel it’s a strong indicator of the efficacy of an organization’s RTO strategy. 

While there aren’t specific insights into why these employees didn’t return to their workplace, it’s reasonable to assume one of the following:

  • The person doesn’t feel comfortable working with their colleagues in-person yet
  • The office employee experience didn’t meet the employee’s expectations
  • The person didn’t see the value in going through all of the effort to go into the office when they could be productive from home

The first point is a reality CIOs, H.R., and other workplace leaders need to be comfortable within the short term. Many people either haven’t received their full vaccinations or interact with at-risk family members or friends. However, the second two bullets are critical and areas that leading businesses are using Robin’s workplace platform to address directly. 

Robin’s employee-centric tools remove the friction and uncertainty associated with an office return. The workplace platform’s interactive maps make it easy for workplace teams to understand and manage space inventory, from meeting room booking permissions to office seating charts and desk reservations.

Employees can easily see which of their colleagues will be working in the office and book desks near them as well as conference rooms and other office assets via desktop, kiosk, or a mobile app. Workplace analytics surface issues, including clearing rooms with abandoned meetings or a lack of quiet spaces, businesses can use to keep tabs on utilization, capacity, and user trends to shape the office based on employees’ preferences.   

At Robin, we believe that businesses must adapt their office to support the hybrid workplace. The office’s role within the modern company changed because we’ve learned that employees are fully capable of maintaining productivity working from their homes.

Now, workplace leaders must reshape their corporate spaces to serve their employees’ needs better and ensure an equitable process to share office resources. The future of work is being written right now, so businesses that proactively manage this transformation and adapt will quickly reap the benefits. 

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