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Low office presence has far-reaching effects on organizations

Person's gesturing hands in front of a conference table with a laptop on it.
Published Jan 18, 2024

A new study examining office work in the aftermath of the pandemic reveals major differences in how much employees are coming in to the office. For example, half of the organizations in the study do not reach 40 percent attendance, a figure that is much lower than what the organizations attendance policy allows. This can have a negative impact on the organization and their work, according to KTH researcher Christina Bodin Danielsson, responsible for the study.

A study conducted in 2023 examined organizations' strategies for dealing with post-pandemic office life in Sweden, more than one year after the restrictions were lifted. The results show significant differences in the amount of time employees spend in the office. 

Home has become the main workplace

Bodin Danielsson, an architect and associate professor of architecture at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, says that despite office policies requiring a majority of the work to be conducted in the office, some 40 percent of the organizations in the study state that 60 percent or more of the work is still conducted remotely. 

"Organizations are concerned that a large proportion of employees consider the external workplace, usually at home, as their main workplace. There has been a shift among employees from the common interest to their own benefits. The study shows that many organizations are afraid of losing important skills, which makes the issue difficult to manage," says Bodin Danielsson.

Office strategy determines presence

Half of the organizations in the study do not reach 40 percent attendance, which is much lower than what the organizations attendance policy allows. However, the study also revealed a big difference between the participating organizations, with 35 percent of them having a work attendance rate between 50 and 80 percent. Those with greater attendance have more centrally located offices and are mainly in the private sector. 

"At the time of the study, no organizations had started using coercive measures to bring back employees. Instead, various strategies are used to increase the attractiveness of the office. After the pandemic, it has also become clear that the office work environment, as well as the atmosphere, has become increasingly important in bringing back employees," says Bodin Danielsson.

Reduced loyalty and innovation

The KTH professor says that the view of what the main purpose of an office has changed. The focus has shifted to consider it as a place for internal interaction and meetings. Subsequently, the office must cater for work-specific needs that are more difficult to meet in an external workplace. The role as a place for external meetings is considered subordinate. This can be interpreted as an expectation to strengthen internal collaboration, loyalty, innovation and productivity.

"Organizations report deterioration in all four of these areas after the pandemic. In addition, they describe other risks associated with fewer people in the office. New employees and young people in organizations lack support from more experienced staff. There may be less understanding of each other's work when the informal glue does not exist in the same way as before. Video meetings cannot replace the spontaneous and informal meetings between colleagues, where new ideas, problem solving and understanding can take place," says Bodin Danielsson.

The research study is based on surveys and in-depth interviews with office managers in 53 large organizations with over 500 employees. All organizations operate in the private and public sector and were based in the Stockholm area. The company Areim financed the research study. The research report can be obtained via Christina Bodin Danielsson.

Text: Peter Asplund

For more information, please contact Christina Bodin Danielsson på 08 - 790 85 41 eller christina.bodin.danielsson@arch.kth.se.

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Belongs to: About KTH
Last changed: Jan 18, 2024