Survey: 60% of employees want to work on-site midweek and sit next to their work friends 

Business leaders around the globe have been revising “return-to-office” strategies for almost two years, but new COVID-19 variants have rerouted many of those plans. Finally, there’s a renewed sense of hope that a post-pandemic future is within reach. Several states, including California, Massachusetts, and New York, are dropping mask mandates this month, and tech companies are prepari to bring workers back to the office.

The key questions are, do we still need physical offices, and will employees want to return after two years of working from home?

There will still be a need for office space in a post-pandemic world, but employees are asking for more flexibility in when they work and who they sit next to, according to a recent survey on 2022 workplace trends conducted by our portfolio company Envoy.

“Certainly something that we’ve heard from customers is that flexibility is just as important — if not more important — than a lot of the other perks that more typical companies are offering,” said Jonathan Weindel, head of analytics at Envoy, who spearheaded the research report. “People want the ability to set their schedules in a more meaningful way that’s purpose-driven and not just about being in the office to be in the office.”

The Envoy team recorded more than 27 million workplace entries in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand and surveyed over 400 companies like Expedia and Poshmark to see how workplace traffic varied throughout 2021. The data showed workplace traffic grew 41% on average despite a dip in December due to the Omicron variant.

What was most interesting about the Envoy report was a shift in employee behavior on booking time in the office.

At the start of 2021, employees scheduled their time on-site just hours before showing up. By the end of the year, employees were scheduling up to three days in advance. Part of this was due to COVID related workplace capacity limits, but the data indicates a growing trend that employees are becoming more proactive about planning their hybrid work schedules ahead of time. 

The data also shows employees didn’t want to return to any old previously assigned cubicle. Instead, they wanted the option to pick the right desk, meaning a desk next to a teammate or work friend. One of the motivating factors for employees to come to the office was socializing with their coworkers.

I can share this sentiment. Our marketing and communications team coordinated a day last month to meet in our San Francisco office. While it was nice to eat lunch together, collaborate in real-time, and brainstorm ideas together, I admit I’m way more productive in my home office.

Another emerging trend is rearranging desks according to “neighborhoods,” said Envoy’s Weindel. For example, inviting coworkers to sit within the engineering neighborhood or sales neighborhood for the day. 

“These are signals that again highlight that intentionality around the spaces that you’re working in and surrounding yourself with,” said Weidel.

In terms of the most popular days to go into the office, most of the employees surveyed landed on Tuesday and Wednesday. On average, nearly 60% of all employee traffic came in the middle of the week. Unsurprisingly, Friday was the least popular day.

“At the start of COVID, there was this whole push of the workplace going away and people going remote forever,” said Weidel. “And I think what we’re seeing, as evidenced by the data, is that there is still a lot of demand and a lot of interest and appetite for people to be in the workplace collaborating.”

Initialized Portfolio Return to Office Survey (December 2021)

Anecdotally, we’ve been hearing that many of our early-stage founders don’t have a strong desire to return to a physical office full-time. Others still are now fully remote.

Before the pandemic started, nearly 19% of founders in our portfolio said they were fully distributed. In our most recent survey conducted in December of 2021, 42% of founders said they would be fully distributed after the pandemic, increasing from 36% a year ago. Meanwhile, a “hub-and-spoke” approach to the workplace — smaller offices across several geographies — has also become more popular. About 39% of our founders said this model is their post-pandemic plan, up from 37% last year. Meanwhile, only about 6% of the founders we surveyed planned to return to a single HQ office.

“Ultimately, it’ll come down to what’s best for your culture and team,” said Kat Steinmetz, our principal and in-house talent & culture advisor. “Engage your employees in conversation to see what type of flexibility they’re looking for.”