Within the last several months, the return to the office has been all the rage. Amazon did it, Meta did it, and so did Farmers Insurance and Goldman Sachs. They traded their remote work policies for return-to-office mandates. But even with these leading companies and a host of other major employers having snatched the option to work from home from thousands of employees, the U.S. continues to lag behind other leading countries in office usage numbers. Although an increasing number of U.S. companies are insisting that their remote workers abandon their home offices to work in-office at least a few days out of the week, the country appears to be gaining little traction in closing the gap between RTO figures in other countries. To better understand how America compares to the rest of the world when it comes to office attendance, we looked at the change in attendance levels from different regions over the past few years.
On a regional level, the Americas has been the slowest to get employees back into its office buildings since the beginning of the pandemic when remote work went from a growing trend in the global office-using community to a fully embraced workstyle. During the first eight months of 2023, an average of approximately 49 percent of workers had returned to the office in the Americas, compared to 76 percent in Asia Pacific and 73 percent in Europe. While the disparity between RTO figures in the Americas and other regions has varied since 2021, it’s always been sizeable, indicating that the pace of getting workers to walk back through company doors in the Americas has consistently been far slower than in other regions.
|Region||August 2021 Office Attendance||August 2022 Office Attendance||August 2023 Office Attendance|
Looking at the U.S. specifically, the average office attendance in August 2023 was 47.3 percent, according to research from JLL and Kastle Systems, marking a small increase from the average office attendance of 43.4 percent in August 2022. While much of corporate America is now making a hard push to get workers to come back to the office, the U.S. is making little headway in catching up to Europe and the Asia Pacific, thereby continuing to play a notable role in the Americas’ third spot position. There are a few distinct reasons why the U.S. is likely to continue to lag in the global RTO movement, and they all center on workers’ priorities in terms of convenience. For starters, the process of getting to the office plays a major role in employees’ resistance to RTO. “The length of an individual’s commute is one of the leading factors when weighing the decisions to work from the office, from home or a third location, and because the U.S. tends to have longer commute times compared to Europe and Asia Pacific, there is more of a hesitancy to make the trip into an office,” said Cheryl R. Carron, Americas COO of JLL’s Work Dynamics division.
Another factor preventing U.S. workers from embracing RTO is the size of their homes. Workers who have the space to establish a comfortable, dedicated workspace within their homes are frequently reluctant to relinquish it for, say, a bookable desk at the office. The average home size in the U.S. is approximately 2,100 square feet, according to numbers culled by U.K.-based CIA Insurance. In comparison, the average residence in Japan and France is 1,000 square feet and 1,200 square feet, respectively.
Finally, looking through the global lens, culture plays a role in employees’ preferred work location. “Workplace norms are just one example of the significant impact geographical nuances and cultural expectations have on daily life. Culture influences the purpose of the workplace and the home, and these influences ultimately impact behaviors and office usage,” Carron noted.
Regardless of the reasons behind some remote workers’ preference for staying away from the office, the RTO movement in the U.S. is going forward full steam ahead. As of June 2023, a total of 1.5 million office workers have been subjected to new attendance policies this year, according to JLL, and there’s more to come, with an anticipated additional 1 million expected to face new RTO mandates by the close of the year. And it won’t end there, as more companies implement RTO strategies and, per JLL, the number of remote workers eager to meet and collaborate at the office goes on the rise. The U.S. has a long way to go to catch up to the rest of the world in office attendance, but there is little indication that employers will stop pushing the RTO agenda. And given that the U.S. is a leading corporate force in the Americas, the RTO discrepancy between regions is on track to decrease.