It is not the advent of the four-day weekend. But both in Ireland and internationally one thing is clear in the new world of hybrid working. Mondays and Fridays are by far the most common days to work from home.
In contrast, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the days when employees are most likely to show up at the office. The hybrid model looks to be here to stay in this most significant change in office culture, with the data showing a minority of office-based companies are either fully remote, or back in the office full-time, while a majority are now hybrid in some form.
It is a trend with big implications for everything from the office market to urban and transport planning. In a presentation to the recent Dublin Economic Workshop, Órla Mannion, public affairs manager at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, put it succinctly: “Remote work is not just a HR trend; it’s a societal shift with significant policy implications.
“This isn’t just about where we work; it’s about how our cities function, how our public services are delivered, and how our economy operates.”
She added that while hybrid working may seem like the future, and it’s evident many companies are moving in that direction, “our grasp on its intricacies remains elusive”.
In trying to understand what is happening, the chamber undertakes surveys of its members, many of them big office employers in the capital. Draft results of its latest survey show that 48 per cent of companies expect employees to attend the office either two or three days a week. Less than 10 per cent obliged employees to attend every day.
The remainder were a mix – 11 per cent left it to the employee to decide, while 10 per cent gave the responsibility to team managers. Smaller numbers obliged employees to attend either one day or four days a week or had other arrangements. Core days – or core hours – are becoming more common and this trend may deepen.
One of the most interesting aspect of the chamber survey is the variation in office attendance over various days of the week. In order of preference, employees are most likely to attend on Wednesday, Tuesday and Thursday, followed by Monday and Friday.
But the most striking thing is the difference between the midweek days and Monday/Friday – a significant number of firms reported offices with between zero and 10 per cent attending on those latter days and between 50 per cent and 80 per cent on the midweek days. However responses did vary, suggesting that no one model has emerged.
Working from home is, not surprisingly, most common among 30- and 40-year-olds, who are more likely to have young families
This trend is completely in line with international experience. In a big paper earlier this year, entitled “The Evolution of Work from Home”, the US National Bureau of Economic Research found that “a typical pattern is to commute into the office on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday”, while employees stay at home on Monday and Friday.
This means different type of work, with the midweek given over more to collaboration, meetings, training and so on.
The survey, which covers a sample of the entire US workforce, showed that full days worked at home accounted for 28 per cent of paid workdays among Americans aged between 20 and 64, four times the 2019 rate and 10 times the rate in the mid-1990s.
Looked at by number of employees, some six out of 10 commute each day, while 12 per work remotely all or most of the time and 29 per cent have a hybrid arrangement.
The US numbers reflect the fact that many jobs cannot be done from home – doctors, nurses, firefighters, those working in retail and so on have to generally attend. As with during the pandemic, those able to work from home at least part of the time tend to be better-educated, better paid and work in bigger companies.
Working from home is, not surprisingly, most common among 30- and 40 year-olds, who are more likely to have young families and often – because they can’t afford city centre housing – face long commutes.
Those working full-time at home tend to be in roles like IT support, payroll processing, phone-based customer support and the type of administrative functions that required limited in-person interactions.
In general, some research suggests that working fully from home negatively affects productivity, while this is not the case for hybrid working. However, this is a new field of research and some of the results are based on individual companies or small groups, or on the perceptions of managers.
A separate Working from Home Around the Globe: 2023 Report covering 34 countries shows that the US – and Irish – data broadly reflect international experience. It shows two-thirds working on business premises, just over a quarter with hyrbid arrangements and the remaining 9 per cent working fully remote.
Internationally, the number of days employees are obliged to attend varies significantly. Interestingly, working from home tends to be a bit more common in English-speaking countries, perhaps reflecting the high proportion of tech and related jobs in America in particular. Ireland also has a relatively high number of people employed in these sectors, though was not part of this global survey.
Looking at the evidence, there are a few clear implications.
First, the future working model has still to settle fully. It is clear that hybrid working appears to be the way forward, but the full shape of this has still to emerge.
The Dublin Chamber research points to a five percentage point rise in the numbers attending the office for either two or three days a week since the end of 2022 – so this model is starting to become more common. The Working from Home Around the Globe report said that on average employees wanted to work from home on average for one additional day more than they are currently being afforded by their employer.
The precise shape of remote and hybrid working have implications that go well beyond companies themselves to areas like urban and public transport planning, commuting and the resulting emissions, childcare and more
Here, businesses surveyed by Dublin Chamber reported the attraction and retention of staff as the most common reason for offering some form of remote or hybrid working, as well as improving morale.
The main concerns are cultivating a positive team outlook and bringing new staff members on board, as well as the potential isolation of members in some cases. Anchor days and clear reasons to attend the office are seen as potential tools. It remains to be seen if employer attitudes change if the jobs market weakens.
In terms of legislation, the right for employees to request remote work is now part of a wider Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act. Crucially, employers, unions and employees are now awaiting a code of practice from the Workplace Relations Commission on the issue, which is seen as crucial in determining how the Act is applied and the shape of future interactions on the issue.
As companies try to settle on a way forward post the Covid shutdowns, this will be an important rule book, though it is not clear when it might appear.
And much hangs on how this all works out. As Mannion pointed out in her speech, the precise shape of remote and hybrid working have implications that go well beyond companies themselves to areas like urban and public transport planning, commuting and the resulting emissions, childcare and more.
She argued that much more information and accurate data will be needed, with some 470,000 people around the Dublin region now working from home at least some of the time.
And then there is the office market, where investment and activity have slowed sharply in recent months, with the price on some premises being cut, higher interest rates and big US tech firms reducing their footprint as part of the general cost-cutting.
The Dublin Chamber survey shows most firms holding on to their existing space for now, though many choosing to reconfigure it. Still, vacancy rates are rising and the market is in a downswing due in part to a lot of new capacity coming on stream.
With new investment now slowing, the question is where the new balance in the market will be and how serious a shake-out there will be before this happens.