What if the Optimal Workweek Is Two Days in the Office, Not Three?

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New research suggests that for some employees and businesses one or two in-office days a week is a sweet spot for hybrid work

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Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economist who studies remote work and advises companies on work setups, says about a dozen firms are paring down in-office schedules from three days a week to two. Other firms are abandoning a full return to the office altogether.

“The combination of having been almost two years out of the office and the labor market becoming incredibly tight, now firms realize that three-two, rather than being seen as generous and appealing, is average at best,” he says.

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Mr. Bloom is a paid consultant for some of the companies and declined to name which ones were inverting their schedules so workers could do more from home.


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A new working paper from Harvard Business School, based on research done at an organization in the summer of 2020, found that people who worked from the office one to two days a week were more productive, while achieving work flexibility without being isolated from peers.

Many companies, including JPMorgan Chase & Co,

and Amazon.com Inc.,

had more ambitious plans to return to work a year ago and have reconsidered them in light of the continuing pandemic, the hot labor market and employee preferences for flexible schedules and locations.

In a monthly survey of worker preferences that Mr. Bloom conducts with Steven J. Davis of the University of Chicago and José María Barrero of Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, the gap between what workers prefer and what their companies are planning has begun to shrink, but a divide remains.

Prof. Davis says that several executives he’s spoken with who tried to get employees to come back to the office four or five days a week failed.

“There was a lot of complaining and a lot of quitting,” he says.

More new survey data this week shows that full-time workers have more work-related stress and anxiety than their hybrid and remote counterparts.

Overall satisfaction with their workplace declined by 1.6 times as much for those working five days in the office compared with the other groups, according to the report from Future Forum, a consortium funded by Slack Technologies Inc., Boston Consulting Group and MillerKnoll,

The survey of more than 10,800 knowledge workers across about 20 industries including financial services, consumer goods and technology, comes as companies have been calling workers back to their desks at a higher rate than at any other time during the pandemic.


Which set up makes you feel less stress: Working full time in the office, remotely or in a hybrid situation? Join the conversation below.

The discontent reflected in the data among those working in the office every day highlights risks that companies take by giving priority to face time and in-office culture over worker preferences for flexibility coming out of the pandemic, says Brian Elliott, executive leader of Future Forum .

“We were kind of shocked that it was as bad as it was,” he says. “It’s going to impact people’s tendency to resign.”

Of the workers surveyed, about 5,000 are based in the US The share of those workers who are now back in the office five days a week rose from 29% in the last quarter of 2021 to 35% in the first quarter of this year.

Workers with little to no ability to set their own hours were more than 2½ times as likely to look for a new job in the coming year as those who have some say in when they work, according to the survey.

At the marketing-and-sales software firm HubSpot Inc,

maximizing employee choice when it comes to work styles has helped with recruiting new hires and retaining people, says Katie Burke, the company’s chief people officer.

“We’re not messing with anything that relates to people’s work preferences,” she says. “I cannot overstate the degree to which it’s been a competitive advantage.”

HubSpot allows employees to pick whether they want to be designated as working at home, the office or a flex arrangement. The office designation is for people who come in three days a week, not five. Flex employees come in one or two days or fewer. The in-office days are considered guidelines as opposed to requirements. This year, 51% of employees are in the work-from-home category, 35% are considered flex, and 14% are in-office.

HubSpot’s head count has increased to more than 5,900 workers, up from about 3,400 in early 2020, Ms. Burke says.

Many companies remain heavily committed to offices, but some of the biggest proponents of in-person work have reconsidered their approaches to office returns. Amazon originally suggested its workers be in the office at least three days a week, with four weeks of remote work built in. The company later revised its policy from three office days each week to allowing individual teams to decide how much time is needed at the office.

A year ago, JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon said that people don’t like commuting. “So what?” he said. “We want people back at work.” He softened his stance in an early April letter to shareholders in which he said that in the future, half of the firm’s employees will spend some or all their time working remotely.

Write to Katherine Bindley at [email protected]


Credit: www.wsj.com /

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