A foreword from Envoy’s CEO, Larry Gadea
I believe in workplaces. And I don’t mean that in a blind, overly optimistic way. I believe in workplaces being core to building culture and community.
Employers now more than ever recognize the value of people coming together in the workplace. It’s idea generation and innovation. It’s relationship building. It’s productivity. It’s company culture. It’s all the things people forgot while working remotely during the pandemic. It’s the magic of being together under a single roof, solving tough challenges, getting work done, and having fun while doing it.
Before the pandemic, no one had to point out the fact that the workplace helped make all of these things happen. That was just the way things were. The norm. Employees worked onsite and great things came of it. When the pandemic hit, many companies, including my own, shifted to remote and hybrid work out of necessity. We learned to adapt quickly and embrace the unknown, and, while separated in our own homes—ironically—we learned the importance of being together.
Since then, leaders have gone back and forth on their return-to-work policies which has caused a lot of confusion. Employees want and need clarity. Here’s what else we’ve learned this past year:
- Magic happens when people come together in the workplace: there’s more innovation, better problem solving, and stronger company culture.
- Employees who are going into the workplace are building stronger relationships with each other, which boosts their mental health.
- The teams who work together in person perform better than those who are mixed or work remotely, especially when there are new-to-career people on the team.
Because of this, employers that take the bold step to bring employees back to the workplace on a regular basis will see big wins for their businesses and their people. The data in this report suggests that others agree: it shows tremendous growth in employee attendance and collaboration in the workplace. After all, Zoom calls and productivity apps are great, but nothing can consistently replace in-person togetherness.
As CEO of a company that’s reinventing the workplace experience, I’ve had a lot of conversations with company leaders about the future of the workplace. While folks don’t agree on everything, they all agree that the success of their business depends on their people. And there’s no better place to bring people together to solve problems, to collaborate, to ideate, to celebrate wins, and to get work done, than the workplace.
Welcome to at work
Hey there! Welcome to At Work: the 2023 workplace trends report. We created this report to give workplace teams and executives an in-depth look at what happened to workplaces last year.
We analyzed Envoy’s proprietary platform data and looked at more than 31 million workplace entries around the globe. We also surveyed workplace leaders and employers to understand their perspectives on workplace culture. We learned how organizations encouraged employees to return and where they increased their workplace investments. After sifting through millions of meeting room and desk bookings, visitor invitations, and responses from workplace leaders, it’s clear that workplaces have gone through tremendous transformations in the last year.
While some companies expanded their footprint, others shrank and opted for space-saving solutions. While some companies brought their employees back onsite at once, others brought them back in phases. No matter what the specific transformation looked like for each workplace, one thing is certain: workplaces became places for connection, collaboration, and productivity once again. In this report, we’ll dive into some of the ways workplaces evolved in 2022, and share important insights to help you plan the future of your workplace. If you took our survey, spoke with us, or used Envoy’s products at your own workplace, thank you for helping us make At Work happen.
What’s going on with workplace traffic?
Workplaces have always played an important role as space for work, but to many it’s more than that. The workplace brings people together to connect, collaborate, and solve problems. It’s a place that builds friendships, develops careers, and breathes life into work. In 2022, businesses understood the importance of the workplace and reopened their doors to cultivate that healthy workplace culture again. However, it wasn’t always a consistent reopening. Leaders yo-yoed with their return-to-work policies throughout the year. Offices experienced a flood of people back onsite some months and a drought in other months.
In this chapter, we analyzed Envoy’s employee and visitor sign-in data to understand workplace foot traffic trends in 2022. But before we dive into last year, let’s zoom out and take a look at workplace traffic patterns since the beginning of the pandemic.
Let’s take a walk through memory lane. It’s March 2020 and employees around the globe got a notification to stay home indefinitely. Workplaces became ghost towns. Flash forward to early 2021, and Covid restrictions began to lift and workplaces became safer. Foot traffic to the workplace increased.
While there were lulls in traffic during Covid outbreaks over the holidays, there has been a consistent upward trend year over year. Throughout 2020 and 2021, workplace traffic grew as employees felt safe and confident returning to work in-person again. But the real story happens in early 2022, when workplace traffic grew a whopping 400% since the start of the pandemic. It was all because of one trend: return-to-office (RTO).
Envoy recorded more than 31 million workplace entries from employees and visitors around the globe in 2022—a 37% increase over 2021. However, the growth in foot traffic wasn’t always consistent. In the chart above, you can see that foot traffic was quite volatile throughout the year.
Companies set off with ambitious and hopeful return-to-office policies in the first half of 2022. Notable large tech companies including Apple and Google doubled down on their RTO policies, which began the trend of mandatory in-office days blended with a flexible, hybrid approach.
Of course, much of the volatility in workplace foot traffic was the result of a major economic downturn that impacted businesses around the world in 2022. Inflation rose, fears of a recession loomed large, and the power dynamic between employees and employers shifted. Similar to 2021, foot traffic lulled in the summer as folks took time off to travel, spend time with kids at home, or the like. After the summer, foot traffic rebounded in September, but hit a plateau through the Fall.
The year ended with an expected holiday lull. Folks turned off their laptops, turned on their fireplaces at home, and cozied up with a cup of hot cocoa.
The return-to-office looked different for different employees. While some employees chose their own onsite schedules, others followed policies mandated by their company. We took a closer look at our sign-in data to figure out if there were any notable trends in office attendance.
On average in 2022, 82% of employees visiting the office in a given week were hybrid-first*, while 18% were office-first. This is up from 70% in 2021. Hybrid-first employees are defined as those who visited the office one to three days in a given week. Office-first employees are those who visited the office for more than three days in a given week. These sign-in behaviors may have been by choice or by company mandate, and they also could have varied week to week throughout the year.
Although hybrid work isn’t necessarily a new thing, it has had an increase in popularity over the last few years as the most favored work model for many industries. Within 2022, the number of hybrid-first employees grew. On average, the number of hybrid-first employees going into the workplace weekly increased by 164% from January to December (excluding December holidays). Notably, the number of office-first employees also saw an increase, although smaller at 33%
*Hybrid-first and office-first is calculated by looking at the frequency with which an employee visited an office on any given week. This number can vary from week to week.
One of the things that makes hybrid work, well… work, is planning out your week. Which days will you schedule to work onsite versus remote? We were interested to see how far in advance employees planned their hybrid work week. According to our data, 81% of employees did same-day scheduling. That means employees scheduled their office days in the morning before heading in or even as they’re walking up to the front door.
However, some employees were early planners. 10% of hybrid employees scheduled their days onsite a month before. These folks were probably at companies with more consistent RTO policies, so they knew what to expect in their schedules and liked to know what their month ahead looked like.
Which US cities saw the highest foot traffic growth?
People in large, coastal cities like Washington DC, New York City, and Los Angeles headed back to the workplace in droves. Notably, DC and NYC had growth rates that far surpassed other top US metro areas. Both regions are home to several tech industries, who tended to be the first to move the RTO needle.
On the flip side, Dallas and Atlanta had slower growth rates in workplace traffic. All cities followed the same seasonality pattern with dips around the summer and winter holidays.
What were the most popular days to go into the workplace?
Let’s zoom in on traffic data once more to look at when employees went into the workplace. Tuesdays and Wednesdays remained the most popular days to go onsite, with Friday being the least popular. On average, over 70% of all employee traffic came in the middle of the week.
We saw a similar trend in 2021 as well. The middle of the week has been a favorite for hybrid employees who use these days to collaborate with their colleagues onsite. Mondays and Fridays are their head-down focus days. Significantly fewer folks went in on Fridays, possibly brought on by companies experimenting with four-day work weeks.
How did employees use the workplace?
Hot desking was on fire in 2022. Hybrid companies that didn’t have as much of a need for permanent desks went looking for a cost-saving solution and turned to hot desking. Envoy launched Desks in June of 2021, so 2022 gave us a look at how one full year of hot desking went. According to our data, employees booked more than 8 million desks in 2022. Those desks could’ve been next to their work bestie, manager, or simply in a preferred part of the office.
Hot desking had a notable growth spurt in the first quarter of the year, when effective return-to-office plans brought hybrid employees onsite. In September, we see the growth rate plateau as hot desking became the norm by that point of the year. By November, desk reservations had grown by 237% from the start of the year.
People often compare which US cities have the best pizza or sports fans. We wanted to compare which city booked the most desks in 2022. It turns out New York and San Francisco take the prize.
They represented 58% of all desk reservations among the top metros. These two tech hubs are home to a wealth of innovative companies that have been some of the early adopters of workplace technology, like hot desking. Both 2021 and 2022 allowed these metros to build a resilient hybrid infrastructure. Cities in the midwest like Detroit and Cincinnati, which are manufacturing hubs, don’t make it anywhere near the top of this list. That’s because industries like manufacturing don’t have a need for hot desking in their facilities.
Some job functions are better equipped to work remotely, while others are more dependent on onsite collaboration and tools. During the pandemic, we saw large masses of knowledge workers move into remote work. Skilled workers from other industries, like healthcare or manufacturing, were still dependent on the workplace to do their jobs. The same can be said about specific teams.
Of the seven most common teams to book desks onsite, Engineering made up a quarter of bookings (26%). That’s followed by Finance (19%), IT (15%), Sales (14%), and Marketing (13%). These teams rely on collaboration and being in the office to work on their projects. They may also need special equipment that is only available in the office.
HR and Operations teams booked the least amount of desks. These teams are better enabled to perform their job functions at home and only make up about 3% of total employees at a company.
Meeting spaces were one of the most impacted parts of work life as a result of the pandemic. Work meetings went entirely digital for most office workers. However, the light at the end of the tunnel showed up in early 2021, when offices began to fill up again and a demand for meeting spaces grew.
Employees not only needed meeting rooms to meet with their in-office counterparts, but also to conference call with their remote colleagues. They needed these spaces to be easily reservable, equipped with the right technology, and versatile. As companies enhanced their meeting room layouts and booking process, demand shot up. In fact, meeting room reservations tripled from 2021 to 2022.
How many people booked meeting rooms in 2022?
Employees booked more than 1.5 million meeting rooms in 2022. That’s a 300% increase compared to 2021. In 2022, the growth rate of meeting room bookings steadily grew and hit a peak in November. The rise in meeting room reservations tells us that onsite collaboration became more valuable to employees and employers alike. As the return-to-office stabilizes in 2023, we can expect that the demand for meeting rooms (and technology to support them) will only grow.
Workplace leaders have looked to simplify and streamline the process of booking a room. In 2022, Envoy released a host of space saving features in our Rooms product that had a big impact on improving the room booking process. Our data shows that these space saving features, like recurring meeting cleanup and rooms release, freed up an equivalent of 25,000 days in meeting room time for others to use.
How far in advance did employees book meeting rooms?
Almost 35% of employees booked a meeting room more than a month in advance. These were likely recurring stand-ups and team meetings. These meetings recurred on the same day and time, so it was easier to book in advance. On the other hand, 33% of employees booked meetings the day-of, allowing for impromptu or spontaneous discussions.
Finally, let’s look at workplace deliveries. There were more than 2 million packages delivered to workplaces, with the holiday months seeing the highest volume. Employees opted to have their packages sent to the workplace to ensure their orders were never left unattended. Whether it be a work accessory or a personal item, employees knew their packages would be safe and secure if they received them at work. Workplace deliveries grew by 38% from 2021 to 2022.
How did companies invest in their workplace?
Now that you’ve digested Envoy’s platform data, let’s change course and take a look at how workplace leaders around the world and in different industries adapted their own offices in 2022. We surveyed over 240 workplace leaders to understand where their organizations made investments in their physical space. We also looked at what tools and incentives they used to bring employees onsite and engage them while there.
We started by asking workplace leaders to identify their company policy. Return-to-office policies run the gambit in our current world. Some support full-time remote work, full-time office work, or hybrid work. We found that 82% of our survey respondents had some form of a hybrid policy. 47% of those were hybrid at-will, which means that employees choose what days to come onsite. 22% are hybrid mix, which means the policy includes a mix of employee-chosen days and manager-selected days.
When compared against our survey from 2021, we found that the number of hybrid employees increased by 5%. Plus, the amount of employees who reported an 100% in-office policy decreased by 6%, and the amount of employees who reported an 100% remote policy decreased by 1%. This could be because hybrid work has continued to gain popularity for being the best of both worlds. Hybrid has offered companies a way to cut down on real estate costs, and offered employees a flexible schedule that fits their needs.
“The primary expectation for the workplace is flexibility. We believe a hybrid workforce helps maintain that flexibility. And when staff work in the office, we want to make their commute worthwhile. Collaboration, onboarding, and improved corporate culture are all things we feel are better suited in-person. Technology has helped bridge the gap, but nothing can replace that face-to-face experience.”
What has been most successful in getting folks back onsite?
Let’s be honest. It hasn’t been an easy road to bring employees back onsite. Employees have high expectations of the workplace. They want a flexible and fun work environment. Plus, workplaces have to compete with the convenience of working from home. According to our October survey, At Work: how employees and executives really feel about the workplace, the biggest deal breakers for employees in 2022 were long commutes, lack of flexibility, chatty coworkers, and outdated technology.
So we asked our survey respondents which incentives they have tried to help employees get over their deal breakers. Food and beverage programs topped the list with 28% of leaders saying it helped incentivize employees to come to the office. That’s followed by company events (16%), social events (11%), furniture and amenities (9%), and office environment (7%). It’s clear that social and collaborative events and spaces were important to employees in 2022. Remote work created a sense of isolation, so it was impactful to have space and time for people to come together again.
How have workplace budgets changed?
Despite macroeconomic challenges, organizations still chose to invest more in their physical workplace. Many companies understood the value and importance of the workplace in strengthening their business and improving company culture.
54% of respondents said their organizations have invested more in the workplace in 2022. This is down compared to the prior year, but only slightly, by 4%. 18% of respondents reported a decrease in investment. 28% said there was no change, which is up by 5% compared to the prior year. Changing priorities and budgets might be an impact of economic turbulence.
Where did organizations spend those dollars?
Let’s take a look at exactly where companies invested their workplace budgets. Organizations chose their top priorities for the workplace based on their goals, industry needs, or employee preferences. 63% of respondents said they invested more in conferencing technology, such as monitors, cameras, and microphones. These technologies are critical to enabling hybrid work models and remote meetings.
50% of respondents said their organizations invested in onsite events and programs. Workplace tools were also a major category for investment. Leaders invested in visitor management (36%), space management (27%), workplace scheduling (26%), and room booking technologies (24%). The percentage of respondents who are investing in these tools is higher than they were last year. Companies in 2022 were much more intentional about getting the right workplace solutions to build a seamless workplace experience.
"We’ve improved our workplace by providing more in-office events and meals to employees. For much of the past year, we provided daily lunches to the folks who came into the office. We also sponsored happy hours and other events to get the team back together and reconnect."
According to our October survey, 46% of leaders say they see the purpose of the workplace as a place for building relationships and collaborating. They didn’t just talk-the-talk, but they put real dollars behind that belief. 36% of this year’s survey respondents said their organizations changed their workplace by adding more collaboration spaces. That can look like casual lounge areas, meeting rooms, pods, and more. This is an increase from last year’s survey responses by 9%, indicating how much collaboration has risen in importance for workplaces everywhere.
Other ways organizations changed their workplace to accommodate employees: adding more desks (23%), more meeting rooms (22%), and more social spaces (19%). On the flip side, some companies looked to make cost-saving decisions and reduce their real estate footprint with fewer desks (11%) and meeting rooms (4%). 12% of respondents said they cut costs on real estate. This might be because those companies moved to a hybrid model and realized they don’t need as much space as they did with an 100% in-office model.
We also asked leaders where they plan to invest their workplace budgets in the year ahead. Workplace leaders want to see their organizations invest in onsite events and programs (36%) as well as food and beverage (24%).
Collaboration is another big area of investment. 23% of respondents plan to invest in collaboration tools, while 17% want to invest in specifically remote collaboration tools. Compared to last year, more participants want to spend on physical collaboration tools and less participants want to invest in remote collaboration tools. While remote collaboration tools are still instrumental for successful work, the focus shifted greatly in 2022 to fostering even more onsite and in-person collaboration.
Well, that was a lot of data! Congratulations on making it through this report, and thank you for joining us on this journey. We hope you were able to discover insights that help you better understand how the workplace grew, shifted, and transformed in the last year. Maybe you recognized parallels in your own workplace or perhaps, like us, you’re feeling inspired for the year ahead.
We hope that after reading this report, you see what we see. That the workplace is still a place for in-person connection and collaboration. It’s a place that fosters creativity, productivity, and problem-solving—more so than one can accomplish in a silo working from home.
The proof is in the data: workplace traffic is up, employees are making more use of work space and resources, and people are investing even more time and money in workplaces around the world.
2023 promises a continuation of this story. We predict that workplace foot traffic will continue to rise. We expect employees and visitors will experience all that the workplace has to offer—whether that be higher levels of collaboration, more productive work time, or just shared smiles with colleagues. And we’re confident that technologies will continue improving the workplace experience for both employees and those running them. Thank you for being a part of the story and believing in workplaces. Until next year!