The Washington Post
Forget casual Fridays. Think empty offices.
Remote work is the new end-of-week norm
Haley Lafloure picked up a couple dozen doughnuts on the way to work.
She forgot it was Friday. The surprise she’d planned for her colleagues turned out to be on her: The office was empty. Everyone else at the St. Louis investment firm where she works had decided to close out the week from home, which meant Lafloure was stuck at her desk with enough sugary fried dough to last her a month.
“I don’t even like doughnuts,” the 25-year-old said. “I sat down and was like, ‘What am I going to do with these?’ ”
As white-collar workers across the country settle into hybrid work routines, one thing is becoming clear: Nobody wants to be in the office on Fridays.
The last day of the workweek, once synonymous with long lunches and early departures, has increasingly become a day to skip the office altogether. The trend, which was already brewing before the pandemic, has become widely adopted, even codified, in recent months and is creating new challenges for employers.
Just 30 percent of office workers swiped into work on Fridays in June, the least of any weekday, according to Kastle Systems, which provides building security services for 2,600 buildings nationwide. That’s compared with 41 percent on Mondays, the day with the second-lowest turnout,
and 50 percent on Tuesdays, when the biggest share of workers are in the office.
“It’s becoming a bit of cultural norm: You know nobody else is going to the office on Friday, so maybe you’ll work from home, too,” said Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “Even before the pandemic, people thought of Friday as a kind of blowoff day. And now there’s a growing expectation that you can work from home to jumpstart your weekend.”
So far, employers appear divided on whether to embrace a remote end to the week or to try to lure employees to the office. There are taco trucks and wine carts, costume contests and karaoke sing-offs, all aimed at getting workers to give up their couches for cubicles.
Even buttoned-up employers are learning to let loose. Citigroup has deemed Fridays “Zoom-free,” while accounting giant KPMG promises “no-camera Fridays” and lets employees clock out for the weekend at 3 p.m. in the summers.
“We want to make sure people are getting a break so they can recharge their batteries,” said Paul Knopp, chief executive of KPMG U.S. “We’re giving them a lot more agency about how they work — and where they work.”
Some start-ups and tech firms have begun doing away with Fridays altogether. Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and online consignment shop Thredup are among a small but growing number of firms moving to a four-day workweek that runs from Monday to Thursday.
Executives at Bolt, a checkout technology company in San Francisco, began experimenting with no-work Fridays last summer and quickly realized they’d hit a winning formula. Employees were more productive than before, and came back to work on Mondays with new enthusiasm. In January, it switched to a four-day workweek for good.
“There was no hesitation: Everybody was like, ‘ Sign me up,’ ” said Angela Bagley, the company’s head of employee experience. “And it was amazing: We kept getting the job done. Managers were onboard, people kept hitting their goals. And they come back on Mondays energized and more engaged.”
But for other companies, finding the right balance has been trickier.
“Employers recognize that it’s tougher to get people to come back in, so they’re asking, ‘What can we do?’ ” said Julie Schweber, an adviser at the Society of Human Resource Management. “The answer is basically: If you feed them, they will come. Food trucks, special catered events, ice cream socials, that’s what’s popular right now.”
Online Optimism, a digital marketing firm with offices in New Orleans, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., has a Friday routine of free lunches and free-flowing happy hours beginning at 4 p.m. sharp. The only rule: No shots.
Although the company has dropped all requirements for in-office work, as many as 80 percent of its 25 employees show up on days when there’s free food, said chief executive Flynn Zaiger.
“Honestly, the best socializing happens on Friday,” he said. “Why not have a beer or two? If people are going to be a little less productive one day of the week, I’d rather it be Friday than Monday.”
Those shifting norms are rippling across the economy and reshaping business patterns for commercial real estate firms, parking garage operators and the many eateries that cater to workers during the week. The drop-off in office work, particularly on Fridays, has led coffee shops to reduce their hours, delis to rethink staffing and bars like Pat’s Tap in Minneapolis to kick off happy hour earlier than ever — starting at 2 p.m.
“Since they’re not at the office, people come in early to pluck away at their laptops while they sip a cocktail or two,” said General Manager Dave Robinson. “By 4:30 or 5 on Fridays, we’re completely full.”
But lunchtime haunts that once saw large crowds on Fridays say they’re struggling. The dropoff has been particularly stark at Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen in Chicago. Business on Fridays is down 30 percent from pre-pandemic levels.
“It’s painful,” owner Dan Raskin said. “Before the pandemic, Friday was the busiest day of the week — people would have an easier day at work and go out with their friends for lunch — but now it’s one of the slowest.”
That’s also the case at LAZ Parking, which operates more than 3,000 garages nationwide. Demand on Mondays and Fridays is much lower — by about 20 percent — than it is midweek, said Leo Villafana, the company’s vice president for the Mid-atlantic region. Wednesdays are the busiest days, though even when people do come in, they tend to stay for shorter periods.
The desire to work from home on Fridays is just about universal, said Johnny Taylor, chief executive of the Society for Human Resource Management, an industry lobby group.
“When you ask employees when they want to work from home, everyone wants Fridays,” he said.
Taylor began toying with hybrid schedules in 2015, long before the pandemic forced businesses of all kinds to adapt. But his early experiments with remote Fridays were a disaster. Employees blew off their work and began winding down after lunch on Thursday. Productivity fell off a cliff.
But now, as the pandemic enters year three, norms have changed. People are more accustomed to teleworking, Taylor said. He now allows remote work on both Mondays and Fridays.
“Fridays from home have become institutionalized,” he said. “There’s really no turning back.”
As employers confront this new reality, they’re looking for more adaptable offices with more communal spaces and gathering areas instead of traditional cubicles. Think more comfy couches, coffee bars, libraries and patio work spaces.
“What people don’t want is to work remotely, together, in the office,” said Lenny Beaudoin, global head of workplace and design at commercial real estate services firm CBRE. “Why make the trip if I’m just logging onto Zoom, like I do at home? It’s up to organizations to have better conversations and choreograph their schedules. It can’t be haphazard.”
Perhaps most important — even more so than free food — Beaudoin said, is the prospect of interacting with colleagues. To that end, some firms are developing apps that offer employees a quick snapshot of who will be in the office on any given day, along with planned events and other perks, so they can decide whether getting dressed and making the commute is worthwhile.
“Just like nobody likes to eat in an empty restaurant, nobody wants to go to an empty office,” he said. “When people do come in to work, they want a real social connection.”
That’s proved to be the case at Mastercontrol, a software firm in Salt Lake City, where employees have reconfigured their weekly rhythm to account for end-of-week slowdowns. The company’s fitness groups, including its running and biking clubs, have moved Friday gatherings to earlier in the week. Most meetings and training sessions are now on Mondays and Tuesdays, when the largest share of employees are in the office.
“Friday, the turnout is definitely much lower — you can see that just by coming into the office and looking around,” said Alicia Garcia, the company’s chief culture officer. “We’re finding that people really appreciate that flexibility.”
There are about 50 employees — out of 1,500 — at Overstock’s Utah headquarters on any given day. On Fridays, though? Hardly anybody.
The online retailer discourages meetings of any kind on Friday. Most corporate employees opt to work longer days during the week so they can take every other Friday off. But even for those who don’t, the last day of the workweek has become a much-needed respite from never-ending meetings and messages, said chief executive Jonathan Johnson.
“Fridays are the emptiest days,” said Johnson, who also works from home that day. “The office is open if people want to come but we don’t push it.”
Johnson limits himself to one Zoom meeting on Fridays, then catches up on emails, writes a weekly letter to the company’s board and plans out the coming week.
Though sometimes he makes room for more personal errands, too.
“I will admit I kicked off at 4 o’clock last Friday to get a haircut,” he said. “It tends to be a great catch-up day.”