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Here’s Who Is—and Isn’t—Going Back to the Office

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Labor Day seems to have been a demarcation point for many employers.

The number of workers who have returned to the office hit a pandemic high in the five business days between Sept. 8 and Sept. 14, with offices seeing an average use that was 47.5% that of early 2020 levels. That was a four-point jump over the previous week.

Many employers are losing their patience for workers spending their entire work week in a remote location as infection rates fall. Several familiar names, including Comcast, Prudential and Peloton are mandating workers to show up more frequently. The number of days required in the office vary, of course, from company to company—and hybrid work is still largely the watchword in non-service industries.

But some fields are putting more pressure on workers than others. A recent survey by Advanced Workplace Associates looked at which sectors are seeing employees return to the office in greater numbers. And when it comes to butts in seats, banking leads the way.

The survey, which covered 13 sectors in 13 countries, 28 organizations and nearly 80 offices (where over 77,000 people worked), found that banking had an average attendance rate of 47% in the August time period. That was more than 80% above the overall average at the time. Peak attendance hit 66%.

Healthcare workers were close behind, at 43%, while employees in the energy sector came in at 41%.

Tech workers were at the bottom of the list, with just 15% showing up at the office in the survey’s timeframe. That comes as big tech firms, like Google and Apple, have encountered fierce resistance among employees when they try to institute mandatory in-person returns. Logistics firms saw the same low attendance.

Residential and pharma workers weren’t far behind, with average attendance rates of 16% and 18%, respectively.

Media (28%), engineering (24%) and insurance (23%) were in the middle of the pack.

Globally, when it comes to return to office figures, Europe is leading the pack. The Advanced Workplace Associates survey finds that average office usage in August was 44%, moving as high as 57% on peak days. (Office usage does not correlate directly to the number of workers coming into the workplace.) Asia-Pacific was a close second, with a 44% usage rate. The U.K. was third with 33%. Latin America was next at 32%. And trailing them all was the U.S., with an average usage rate of just 25%.

“Organizations with hybrid working policies have higher attendance than those who do not,” the survey found. “However, for those with hybrid working policies, attendance is far lower than expected – and at best 42%. [Also,] if an employer trusts its teams to set their own policies, attendance is 41% – almost the same as where a three day a week policy is imposed.”

The return-to-work numbers for virtually all industries could go up slightly in the coming months, but hesitation among workers isn’t likely to dissipate anytime soon, regardless of the industry. More and more employees, during the heart of the pandemic, rethought many of the things they once thought of as absolutes. And that’s at the heart of many of the refusals to return to the office.

“Why do we just naturally assume that having a good job comes as a trade off from having a good life and vice versa,” says Phil Libin, founder and CEO of video communication company mmhmm and AI product developer All Turtles, as well as the previous CEO of Evernote. “It’s because in the old model, if you wanted a nice place to live, you probably weren’t going to live in a big city or you were going to commute for a long time because that’s where the job was. We got so used to these things in opposition that we sort of stopped questioning them. And then, the whole framing turned into a balance framing – like how do you make compromises in your quality of life and a little bit of compromise in the job? You have and try to find a middle. What if, instead, you said ‘I’m not compromising on either of those things. I’m going to have the best life that I can have and I’m going to work where I can have the best job’?”

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.



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