When it comes to the workplace, it’s not often that everybody agrees on something. From meeting etiquette to the perfect temperature for the office thermostat, it’s normal for people to have differing (and oftentimes strong) opinions.
But, there’s one thing that nearly everybody readily admits: The working world is forever changed.
The COVID-19 pandemic turned our work landscape – not to mention the entire world – on its head. Seemingly overnight, offices were shuttered and workers were sent home to collaborate from their couches, kitchen tables, and makeshift office spaces.
That dramatic and abrupt shift happened over two years ago. But, despite the fact that many offices have opened up again and people have slowly settled into a “new normal,” not all company headquarters are hustling and bustling the way they used to be. In fact, many offices remain silent – or, at the very least, far quieter than they were pre-pandemic.
Where have all the workers gone? Many organizations have opted for a hybrid work model, which gives employees the autonomy to decide where they want to work. They might decide to be totally remote or in the office full-time. Or, they might do a combination of both. They aren’t locked into a set arrangement, and their preferences can change.
Some locations have thoroughly embraced hybrid working post-COVID, while others have asked more people to return to their office spaces again. What cities, states, and countries fall where on the return-to-office spectrum? We combed through all of the data to find out.
Table of Contents
- Which global capital cities have returned to the office the slowest?
- Which countries have returned to the office the slowest?
- Which US states have returned to the office the slowest?
- What are the arguments for and against hybrid workplaces?
- Tips for adapting to a hybrid work model
- Hybrid work model example
- How does Wrike support hybrid workplaces?
- Digging into the data: The methodology
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Which global capital cities have returned to the office the slowest?
Let’s first look at which capital cities have seen the slowest return to the traditional office environment. Surprisingly, they aren’t concentrated in one particular part of the world. These global capital cities extend from Europe to Asia.
London, United Kingdom
Result: Visits to workplaces are down 34.1% compared to baseline.
London tops the list of capital cities with a slow return to the office, and London workers show little sign of wanting to head back. One survey of finance executives across the UK found that more than 85% of them no longer view the office as their main place of work, with 44% saying they subscribe to a hybrid arrangement instead.
District of Columbia
Result: Visits to workplaces are down 33.4% compared to baseline.
District of Columbia comes in second on the list, with office occupancy reportedly only at 36% in March 2022. The district lags behind other parts of the region, including Virginia and Maryland.
Result: Visits to workplaces are down 19.2% compared to baseline.
While some reports indicated that Japan was reluctant to embrace remote work at the start of the pandemic, it seems as if it’s become the norm for them now. Data shows that Tokyo has had the second slowest return to the workplace, with many workers still opting to work from home.
Result: Visits to workplaces are down 18.8% compared to baseline.
Germany recently lifted all COVID-19-related travel restrictions, but it doesn’t mean that all employees are clamoring back to their office spaces. Berlin’s return to the office is the third slowest on the list.
Result: Visits to workplaces are down 14% compared to baseline.
Moscow took serious steps at the start of the pandemic to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, with all Moscow employers required to have at least 30% of their employees working remotely during specific time periods. While that restriction has since been lifted, it appears that workers in Moscow are in no hurry to head back into the office.
Which countries have returned to the office the slowest?
Let’s zoom out a little further to understand what countries have been reluctant to head back to the “normal” office environment. Some of them mirror what the capital cities' data showed. A few others didn’t have high-ranking capital cities, but made it into the top five countries overall.
Result: Visits to workplaces are down 21.0% compared to baseline.
With London being the number one capital city with a slow return to the office, it makes sense that the UK would top the list of countries too. UK workers appear to prefer flexible or hybrid work, with UK office buildings at only about a quarter of their capacity in April 2022.
Result: Visits to workplaces are down 17.3% compared to baseline.
Some United States companies are eager to get workers back at their desks, but employees have a different idea of what they want their work lives to look like. 52% of American workers said that they are thinking about switching to a full-time remote or hybrid job in 2022, which goes a long way in showing why the US hasn’t had a swift return to the office as a whole.
Result: Visits to workplaces are down 10.6% compared to baseline.
Japan was previously known for its high commitment to work, with many employees staying with one company for a lifetime. However, like in other parts of the world, the pandemic made many workers rethink their desires and values. The slow return to the office is a small piece of that, with many workers holding onto the flexibility of remote or hybrid work.
Result:Visits to workplaces are down 9% compared to baseline.
During the thick of the pandemic, German companies were required to offer employees the opportunity to work from home, provided their roles were suited for remote work. Although that obligation ended on March 20, 2022, many German employees continue to work outside the office, with 24.9% of German employees working from home at least part of the time in April 2022.
Result:Visits to workplaces are down 8.5% compared to baseline.
On June 9, 2021, France ended its guideline that imposed 100% remote working where possible. But, while France’s reopening plans have continued to move forward, many workplaces aren’t full, with the country coming in fifth on the list of those with the slowest return to offices.
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Which US states have returned to the office the slowest?
Now that we’ve gotten a grasp on the world as a whole, let’s take a closer look at the United States. While the country was second on the list of those with the slowest return to the office, which specific states have lagged behind when bringing employees back into office buildings?
Result: Visits to workplaces are down 25.9% compared to baseline.
Hawaii was the very last state to end its mask mandate in late March 2022. However, many workers are still choosing the remote work route, with the office vacancy rate in Oahu at 13.31% in the first quarter of 2022 – the highest level in almost 20 years.
Result: Visits to workplaces are down 24.2% compared to baseline.
California was one of the states that had the strictest COVID restrictions during the height of the pandemic, so it makes sense that it would have a slower return to “normal.” In San Francisco, more than 20% of the city’s office space was still sitting empty in April 2022.
Result: Visits to workplaces are down 23% compared to baseline.
Many offices in Washington state — especially in larger cities like Seattle — are still vacant as many companies shift to permanent remote or hybrid work. Early in the pandemic, it was estimated that the amount of vertical office space in downtown Seattle that was leased but empty amounted to more than 700 football fields.
Result: Visits to workplaces are down 22.1% compared to baseline.
Several employer surveys in Massachusetts found that the vast majority of employers plan to offer remote or hybrid work as permanent options. It’s great news for the employees who crave that level of flexibility, but leaves many people wondering what will happen to the cities and downtown areas that rely on large masses of office workers.
Result: Visits to workplaces are down 21.4% compared to baseline.
Many people have heard that streets, businesses, and workplaces in New York — especially in metropolitan areas — have been far quieter than they used to be. Manhattan, in particular, reportedly only had 8% of the city’s office workers back in the office full-time in May of 2022.
Why have some areas returned to the office faster than others?
There isn’t one easy explanation for why some areas have seen a speedy recovery of in-office workers while others have lagged behind — there are a lot of factors at play.
For the most part, the return to the office has been slower in larger cities. Part of that is because city centers and metropolitan areas tend to have larger concentrations of office jobs, which means there are more people in positions who are eligible to work from home in the first place.
Secondly, there’s an assumption that cities have seen a slower office recovery simply because working in person is more of a hassle there. With long commutes, crowded public transportation, and high costs, many city workers might find it easier to continue working from home.
Is the future of work a hybrid model?
It might seem like a safe assumption that places with empty office buildings have opted for a remote or hybrid work model instead. There’s likely some truth to that — although it’s difficult to statistically prove.
But, that doesn’t mean you can draw a straight line from low office occupancy to high hybrid work adoption. The pandemic had broad impacts, which means there are a number of other reasons that office recovery could be lagging in some areas, including:
- Business closures: The pandemic was tough on businesses — especially small businesses. Some had no choice but to permanently close their doors.
- Business relocation: Employees aren’t the only ones searching for greener pastures. Some companies are looking for lower-cost options for their company headquarters. One recent study found that 29% of companies were considering moving major operations to another state or country.
- Employee turnover: Everybody’s talking about “The Great Resignation.” As people reevaluated their priorities, some shifted their careers or even left their jobs (and, as a result, the office) entirely.
So, while it seems likely that areas with a slow office recovery would have the highest adoption of remote or hybrid work, that’s not a firm conclusion. As with so many other things in the working world, it’s multi-faceted.
What are the arguments for hybrid workplaces?
Hybrid workplaces are a hot-button issue, to say the least. Their advantages and drawbacks have been talked about at length over the past couple of years.
Let’s start with the benefits. Here’s why some employers and workers are in favor of a permanent shift to hybrid work.
What are the benefits for employers?
- Easier recruiting: The hiring landscape is tougher than ever, and companies that refuse to offer some flexibility run the risk of losing out on top talent. Recent data from FlexJobs found that 58% of job seekers want to be full-time remote employees. Another 39% wanted a hybrid work arrangement. That’s 97% of candidates who are looking specifically for employers who offer flexible work. Plus, hybrid or remote work allows employers to cast a wide net when recruiting without being limited by location.
- Better employee retention: Companies aren’t just focused on bringing in new employees — they want to keep their existing ones. Flexibility is key for employee retention, with 42% of employees admitting they would leave their current job for one that offered a more flexible environment
- Lower costs: Especially for employers who need to tighten their belts, hybrid or fully remote work can lead to some cost savings on in-office perks and other expenses. However, those reduced costs go beyond less coffee in the breakroom. Some experts estimate that employers can save an average of $11,000 per year on an employee who works remotely half of the time.
What are the benefits for employees?
- Better balance: Gallup data shows that the top reason why employees prefer hybrid work is to avoid commute time. That’s part of a broader push for better work-life balance. When employees have the freedom to choose when and where they get their best work done, they can build work around their lives — and not the other way around.
- Increased productivity: While some employers might be chewing their nails at the thought that employees won’t actually work, the data paints a different picture. Remote or hybrid work has been shown to boost employee productivity levels. 60% of employees said they thought hybrid work had enhanced their productivity.
- More control: From being the master of the thermostat to not having to listen to a coworker’s phone call at eardrum-bursting levels, many employees enjoy the level of control they have over their environments and workdays when they’re able to work remotely or as part of a hybrid arrangement. They can be in the office when they feel it serves them best.
What are the arguments against hybrid working?
While hybrid working definitely has its advantages, it’s not a no-brainer.
Employers and employees alike have some concerns about how hybrid work would impact their communication, collaboration, and, ultimately, success. Let’s dig into a few of the main criticisms and worries.
What are the drawbacks for employers?
- Challenging logistics: Who’s in the office? Who’s at home? What about tomorrow? Do you need a Zoom link for that meeting? Or will everybody be in the office? Giving employees total control over where they’re working comes along with some tricky logistics for employers to coordinate.
- Clunky collaborations: Similarly, managing collaborations can feel tougher when employees are spread out. Open communication can suffer, with workers being twice as likely to avoid speaking up with team members and managers about concerns as they would be in person. That can erode bonds and even negatively impact company culture.
- Technological hurdles: Many companies were forced to make things work when the sudden shift to remote work happened. But long-term hybrid work requires the right tools and platforms — and that’s an area where a lot of organizations are lacking. One-third of employees admit that they don’t believe their company has the right tech in place to support hybrid work, and it can be a costly investment (in both time and money) to get there.
What are the drawbacks for employees?
- Decreased visibility: Although it’s mainly employers voicing concerns about a lack of facetime with employees, workers might have some fears too — especially when it comes to making sure their hard work doesn’t slip by unnoticed. Despite the fact that remote workers are more productive, research shows that they might actually be 50% less likely to get promoted.
- Emotional exhaustion: We’ve all heard of Zoom fatigue. But it’s not just the seemingly endless video calls that are draining — it could be hybrid or remote work as a whole. This can be a recipe for burnout, especially when many employees use a flexible work arrangement to get a better handle on their household or caregiving responsibilities. 80% of human resources executives say that hybrid work is proving to be exhausting for employees.
- Lack of connection: Remote work can be isolating and loneliness is frequently cited as one of the top drawbacks. Particularly for extroverted employees who crave in-person connection with their colleagues, hybrid work can bring along some challenges when it comes to their relationships and morale.
Does the opinion of hybrid work vary between countries?
Each country has its own unique norms, values, and ways of life, so it stands to reason that they might have some differing views of hybrid work and how it fits into their societies.
However, the desire for flexibility seems to be somewhat universal. One report found that two-thirds of people around the world want to continue to have flexible work arrangements even after the pandemic is over. Almost one-third say they’re prepared to quit their jobs if they’re required to go back to the office full time.
It’s proof that most people around the globe aren’t waiting for a complete return to “normal.” In fact, the same report found that nearly a fifth of the global workforce believe they’ll never work like they did prior to the pandemic.
The preference for flexibility seems to be pretty far-reaching, but not every country is set up for it in the same way. Countries with robust internet infrastructure and digital platforms are more prepared for hybrid working than those that don’t have the necessary systems to deal with traffic surges and home-based work.
What does the future of hybrid work look like?
Here’s the short answer: Hybrid work isn’t a temporary pandemic-related measure — it’s a work arrangement that’s here to stay.
It won’t just be persistent — it’ll be prevalent. Gallup research indicates that it will be the predominant office arrangement moving forward, with 53% of employees expecting a hybrid arrangement and another 24% expecting to work completely remotely.
Organizations expect to keep pace with those demands, with nine out of 10 companies in a McKinsey survey saying they’ll now combine remote and on-site working.
Tips for adapting to a hybrid work model
What does that mean for you? You can’t write off hybrid work as a passing fad or something that employees will eventually move past. In order to remain competitive in recruiting, retention, and performance, employers need to figure out how to implement a hybrid work model for their own workers — not later, but now. Here are a couple of tips to make it happen:
Create an actual strategy
To do hybrid work well, you can’t fly by the seat of your pants. You need a formal, documented strategy for how you’ll manage a hybrid team and enable everybody to work effectively, yet 70% of businesses lack this sort of plan. Work with your company’s leaders to iron out a strategy that includes your organization’s values, views of hybrid working, expectations, technology requirements, and more.
Offer training for managers
Leading a team is always tough, but managing a hybrid team adds a new layer of complexity. McKinsey research shows that leading organizations not only define a vision for how managers should lead differently in a hybrid environment, but also provide adequate training for them to carry out that vision.
Provide opportunities for connection
A hybrid model gives employees the freedom to decide where they want to get their work done, but it shouldn’t leave everybody feeling like they’re working in a vacuum. Regardless of whether employees are on-site or remotely, provide plenty of opportunities for them to connect and bond beyond meeting agendas and action items. From Slack channels dedicated to shared interests or small talk to social events that are available in-person or via video call, those connections don’t just increase trust — they can boost productivity too.
Hybrid work model example
“Hybrid work” has been talked about at length, but it’s also a term that’s ripe for confusion.
Hybrid work is not exclusively in-person and on-site collaboration. But it’s not exclusively remote work either. It’s right in the middle.
Hybrid work is an arrangement that gives employees the freedom and autonomy to decide where they want to work. Exactly how much flexibility employees get depends on what hybrid work model an organization uses — which can alter their schedules or environments.
Let’s take a closer look at some different hybrid work model examples for some clarity.
Location-specific hybrid work models
- Remote-first hybrid work model example: Employees work remotely most of the time but have the option to work on-site (whether that’s in an office, coworking space, or elsewhere) when they see fit. Example: Employees of Company XYZ usually work remotely but come to the office for specific work sessions, meetings, and team gatherings.
- Office-first hybrid work model example: Employees work on-site the majority of the time but have the option to work remotely when they see fit. Example: Employees of Company XYZ work in the office most of the time but have the option to work remotely on days when they don’t have any in-person meetings.
Schedule-specific hybrid work models
- Flexible hybrid work model example: Employees of Company XYZ have the freedom to choose their work location based on what’s happening that day. Example: Employees of Company XYZ might choose to work remotely one Wednesday, head into the office on Thursday, and then work only Friday morning in the office before working from home for the afternoon. Those days and places could all change the following week.
- Fixed hybrid work model example: Employees of Company XYZ have set days and times when they go into the office and when they work remotely. Example: Employees of Company XYZ work remotely on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays but are on-site on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Each model has its advantages and drawbacks. The best thing you can do is collect employee feedback to determine which model fits your team and organization best.
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How does Wrike support hybrid workplaces?
Whether it’s how strong the breakroom coffee should be or the perfect playlist for productivity, getting your entire team to unanimously agree on something is tough.
But there’s one conclusion that’s not up for much debate: We’re never going back to the way we used to work. Hybrid work is here to stay, and organizations need to adjust if they want to remain competitive and keep their best talent onboard.
To do so, they need to have the right tools in place — and Wrike can support you and your hybrid workforce as you learn to collaborate in this “new normal.” Wrike will:
Hybrid work comes with a lot of digital communication. A collaborative work management platform like Wrike gives your team a spot for all questions, comments, feedback, and status updates, so people can get all of the context they need without scrolling through endless email threads and Slack conversations.
Within Wrike, you can easily assign tasks, roles, and deadlines to members of your team so there’s no confusion about who’s doing what. Everybody knows what’s expected of them and when they need to do it.
Wrike integrates with many different document keepers and file storage apps so that all of your team’s important resources — from briefs or summaries to instructions and procedures — are organized and accessible from anywhere.
All of that leads to smoother collaboration. Add in the magic of templates and tried and tested workflows, and you have a recipe for success (not stress).
Digging into the data: The methodology
All of the data was collected from the Google Community Mobility Report, which shows how visits to certain places – with workplaces being one of those places – have changed throughout the pandemic.
The return-to-office figures are from the period of March 4, 2022, to April 7, 2022, and are compared to a baseline. The baseline is considered a “normal” value for that point in time. The baseline figure is the median value from the five-week period of January 3, 2020, to February 6, 2020.
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