November 8, 2023

How often should your employees be in the office?

Many businesses are allowing employees to work remotely, at least sometimes. But how often should you be making your employees come into the office – if at all? 

The reality is that the perfect answer will vary sector by sector and business-by-business. With that in mind, this guide looks at how to work out how often you should let employees work remotely and how often you should make sure they come into the workplace.


Be guided by your own needs

The starting point for working out how often people should come into the office should always be why you need them in the office in the first place. 

Sometimes, that will be dictated by the nature of the work itself. Obviously, frontline retail or hospitality workers need to be physically present. But for other sectors, it can be a bit more nuanced. 

That said, there will often be collaborative tasks that are best performed in person. Being together can also be great, even necessary, for team bonding. Then, of course, there are client meetings or inter-company meetings, where face-to-face contact gives people a better feel for reading the room through body language and other nuances.

In fact, MIT’s Human Dynamic Labs invested heavily in exploring this very topic. It found that the most valuable communication was unequivocally done in-person. It also found that up to 35% of variation in team performance came down to how often team members spoke face to face. 

That’s something you should keep in mind when working out how often to bring employees into the workplace.


Employee satisfaction is important too

On the other hand, all of the research shows that happy employees are also productive employees. So, weighing against MIT’s findings is the fact that most employees enjoy working at least some of the time from home. 

McKinsey research showed 65% of employees would choose to always work from home if it were possible. It also found that employees offered the opportunity to work flexibly almost always took up the opportunity. Those who didn’t tended to be older or on lower incomes. 

But even many of those who wanted to work from home full-time often reported there were obstacles in the way of becoming fully productive. 


Choose the model that suits you 

With that in mind, hybrid work – where an employee is at home sometimes and in the office others – seems to be the logical solution for many workplaces. And last month, we wrote about the three types of hybrid working: the fixed model, flexible model and the office-first model. These differ in the following ways:

  • Fixed Model. In this model, employees have set days where they work from the office and also days where they work from home. This can be great for planning but restrictive for employees craving flexibility. 
  • Flexible Model. Here, employees get to pick where they work each day, depending on what they feel suits them best. This model suits people who like to control their own schedule, but it demands a high level of trust. 
  • Office-First Model. Under this model, employees are expected to be in the office most of the time, but they can still choose to work from home when they’re not needed for collaboration or other face-to-face work. 

To some extent, the model you choose will also dictate how many days a week you insist your employees come into the office.


How your business can answer the question 

As this shows, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how often employees should be in the office. The ideal balance varies based on the type of work you do and the type of office you run. 

A good starting point is always to spend some time working out which critical tasks require in-person collaboration and which can be carried out just as effectively from outside the workplace. Then, factor in the creativity and value that come from face-to-face interactions.

For instance, if you find that 40% of your workplace tasks are best performed face to face, you may find that three days a week lets you get these done but also allows for some informal interaction. Alternatively, if you want a less rigid structure, you could decide to ask employees to be in the office for two set days and then decide whether they want to come in at other times. 

Given how rapidly workplaces are transforming, more than anything, it’s adaptability that’s key. So, embrace change, listen to your employees, and stay open to finding the balance that fosters both productivity and job satisfaction. 

After all, in the end, it’s not just about how often your employees are in the office—it’s about creating an environment where they can thrive, no matter where they work.


Want more?

If you’d like to know more about implementing an office-first approach in your workplace, get in touch

say hi to our author

Merilyn founded Catalina Consultants in 2012 on the belief that all organisations, regardless of size, should have access to top quality bespoke HR services. She enjoys working closely with her clients and believes that the best results are built on relationships of rapport, trust and authenticity. Growing up, Merilyn had her sight set on stardom and dreamed of becoming an actor. She also sang and played the piano, but ended up studying accounting and HR. Whilst she hasn’t won her Grammy just yet, she still loves a good karaoke night. Merilyn loves to travel with her family, with South Africa being one of her most memorable destinations.

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