In our previous research article: The office is not becoming a social clubhouse, quite the opposite actually, we found results we didn’t expect. Whereas most people thought the office was becoming a social clubhouse, we found that there are actually fewer meetings in the office after COVID. The occupancy of meeting facilities didn’t increase compared to workstations. While analysing the activities in the meeting facilities and workstations showed fewer occurrences of meetings in these spaces. Meetings in the therefore designed facilities and workstations were replaced by more individual activities like video conferencing, calling or reviewing. It seems that people are more often searching for a meeting facility where they can do their individual (hybrid) work.
However, as we also mentioned in the discussion, this analysis is rather simplified. We grouped all the workdays (Mondays-Fridays), as well as all types of meeting facilities. There are many meeting facilities ranging from closed meeting rooms to open break-out areas. The most common ones we used for the analyses are defined in table 1. In this article, we will dive deeper into these different aspects of the workspace and will propose potential solutions to design an office that employees and managers desire.
Table 1. Definitions of the most common types of meeting facilities
As a reminder, we included 20 studies about the office after COVID from 2022 in Europe and compared them to 128 studies on offices before COVID. In total, we observed 12,979 workstations and 2,889 meeting facilities Post-COVID, compared to 93,434 workstations and 18,391 meeting facilities Pre-COVID. The distribution of different types of meeting facilities was relatively the same Pre- versus Post-COVID. Meeting rooms contributed to 43% of the meeting facilities Pre-COVID versus 37% Post-COVID. Consulting tables 18% (Post-COVID 16%). Breakout areas 19% (Post-COVID 26%), Booths 15% (Post-COVID 16%), and Canteens 3% versus 4% Post-COVID.
Occupancy across the weekdays
While diving deeper into the occupancy across different weekdays, we see lower occupancy in the office after COVID compared to pre-COVID, which is no surprise. Noticeable, however, is the bigger dip, especially on Fridays, Wednesdays, and Mondays. The need for staying at home close to the weekend has become more pervasive Post-COVID. Staying a day at home in the middle of the workweek on Wednesday adds to that. Pre-COVID we saw this “Flying bird pattern” (see figure 1), as our CEO Vincent le Noble likes to call it. Especially in our studies in the Netherlands. But according to our data, Post-COVID the Bird-pattern has become even more pervasive.
Figure 1 workstation and meeting facility occupancy across weekdays
Occupancy across different meeting facilities
In our last research article, we saw different work activities in general, but also lower occupancy in meeting facilities. We saw fewer social interactions and more individual work in the meeting facilities. However, it can be expected that this effect differs per type of meeting facility. And indeed, Figure 1 shows some interesting differences. While occupancy is halved in most of the facilities, some facilities show lower decreases. Canteens, consulting tables, and meeting rooms are relatively more occupied in the office after COVID.
Figure 2. Overall occupancy across meeting facilities Pre-COVID versus Post-COVID.
When looking at the occupancy across the day, shown in figure 2, we found that people now use the canteens relatively longer during break time causing higher occupancy in general. This higher use in the canteen is compensated with a surprising lower use in break out areas.
Figure 3. Occupancy across the day between different types of meeting facilities. Data has been cut off between 09:00-17:00 due to reliability reasons.
Activities in types of meeting facilities
In our last article, we saw a significant drop in the number of meetings. But when we dive deeper into the activities per meeting facility, we witness several space-dependent changes in figure 3. A prominent change is the increase of meetings in the canteen. While in breakout areas, we see a decrease in meetings but an increase in “miscellaneous” activities, e.g. eating or looking at the phone.
On the other hand, the more closed facilities like meeting rooms, meeting pods, and booths, are now more often used for calling and doing mobile computer work. Moreover, in almost all meeting facilities, we see an increase in video conferencing but ironically not in conference rooms.
Figure 4. Activities across different meeting facilities Pre-versus Post-Covid
Social use of the office
Our first research article argued that the office is not becoming a social clubhouse. At first sight, this study seems to contradict that, showing a higher (relative) use of the canteen. But canteens only contribute to 3% of all the meeting facilities. Moreover, only in canteens, there is a large increase in the number of meetings between people. For many other facilities, we see a decrease. So overall, there’s still a reduction in social activities at the office.
Nevertheless, the interesting increase in canteen use might imply that employees do want more social time but do this mostly during break time. Having a shared break in the canteen might now be the best option for them to socialise and have fun together. It could be that a lack of social skills due to long-term isolation caused employees to use their shared break time in the canteen to socialise. An additional reason could be that employees now feel more comfortable taking longer breaks as they experience more flexibility/ownership over their work hours.
The fact that canteens have increased in use and for social interaction, might hint at the possibility that people are mostly going to the office for non-work related socialising. Breakout areas and meeting rooms are more associated with work-related social interactions, which didn’t increase Post-Covid. Due to privacy reasons, we do not measure whether the “meetings” people are having are work-related or not. But given the higher occupancy and longer use of canteens. It seems that people are rather searching for a community feeling, and having fun with colleagues that the workplace facilities don’t seem to offer. Moreover, having lunch together is an easy opportunity to come together, socialise and strengthen a community feeling.
On the other hand, during work time we see employees using meeting facilities for mobile computer work, having video conferences, and individual calling instead. It’s clear how the hybrid way of working also has a strong effect on the work at the office. Instead of having many physical meetings at the meeting facilities, people are now using them for their digital meetings; alone on their laptops or on their phones. But surprisingly this didn’t increase the occupancy of booths. It seems when there is space available (due to low occupancy), people prefer to use bigger spaces for their calls.
The lower occupancy Post-Covid versus Pre-Covid is extra highlighted on Fridays, Mondays, and a little on Wednesdays. Working from home close to the weekend might be an extra sign that people don’t feel the strong urge or confidence to socialise yet at the office. Although many companies are known to have a relaxed and social Friday (afternoon) at the office like “casual Friday” or the Dutch “Vrijmibo” (Friday afternoon drinks). Many people now spend this “relaxed” day rather than at home.
Altogether, during work time people are not using the office as a social clubhouse but instead use the meeting facilities for individual calling and video conferencing. Nevertheless, during break time this is compensated with higher occupancy, longer breaks, and more social interaction in the canteens. It seems that people are longing for more casual social interactions and build on a sense of community and belonging through this. While outside of lunchtime, we don’t see a massive increase in collaboration. Hybrid working itself might prevent the office from becoming a social clubhouse. Foremost, it causes lower occupancy making it more difficult to socialise for the people who are there. And secondly, the people who are working remotely cause the people at the office to be tied to their devices with hybrid meetings and phone calls.
Our data only consisted of 20 Post-Covid studies and gives a blurry peek into what is really going on. Nevertheless, a good sign of the validity of the data is the similarity in the distribution of meeting space types Pre-Covid and Post-Covid. Even so, it’s very likely that organisational differences like industry, floorplan, and return to work policies strongly influence the way the office is used now. The aggregated data you see here, might not reflect on your own workplace. If you are challenged with managing your own workplace, we would advise you to focus on your own organisation and collect your own workplace data. By understanding your occupancy, the workplace behaviour of your employees, and your employees’ needs you can make data-driven decisions that help you to realise the workplace you envision. We are very willing to support you in this journey by measuring what you need to know.