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Report: Despite Global Back-to-Office Mandates, Global Workplace Utilization Was Flat in Q2

XY Sense, XY Sense Workplace Utilization Index

MELBOURNE, AU and NEW YORK: Despite widely reported “back to the office” mandates from companies around the world, office space was used just 30% of the time during the second quarter of 2023 — just three percentage points more than during the first quarter. 

That’s according to a new report from XY Sense, the actionable occupancy intelligence platform for corporate real estate teams. The Q2 2023 XY Sense Workplace Utilization Index (WUI) showed that across all the countries tracked in the global study, U.K. office occupancy and utilization rates were highest, at 52%, while U.S. rates were lowest at 20%. Rates in APAC averaged 35%.  

The XY Sense Workplace Utilization Index is a quarterly report aggregating data from 24,885 workspaces across the US, EMEA, and APAC. The data come from XY Sense’s vast network of privacy-preserving sensors installed in client workspaces. These privacy-preserving sensors passively monitor office areas to collect real-time insights on the number and location of workers present, as well as dwell times associated with specific floor plan features such as desks and meeting rooms. Data is updated every two seconds for maximum precision. 

Despite the large number of well-publicized return-to-office mandates now in place worldwide, levels of workplace utilization have plateaued at about half pre-pandemic levels. The data suggest that global office utilization rates may actually have reached a new normal. 

WUI data show that hybrid work policies profoundly affect workplace utilization, with 84% higher office utilization on midweek days versus Monday and Friday. Workplace utilization was highest on Tuesdays, at 38.2%, and lowest on Fridays, at 18.2%. 

“While individual companies may see increases in office attendance and utilization, it’s clear that most businesses won’t see a return to pre-pandemic office utilization levels in the foreseeable future,” said XY Sense Head of Customer Success Shivaun Ryan, author of the WUI report. “This stabilization should provide a degree of comfort when planning changes to office portfolios. We’ve reached a new normal. The question is how workplace leaders are going to adapt their office portfolios to meet this new status quo.” 

Hybrid schedules create a workable compromise between the desire for individual flexibility and sufficient team time in offices. Nevertheless, they complicate workplace planning and management because resource demand varies considerably throughout the week. Past industry standards like the appropriate number of workstations and meeting spaces per employee are no longer fit-for-purpose. Instead, companies must uncover their unique utilization patterns to rightsize their real estate portfolios, refine spaces to meet employee needs and deliver on the promise of a new era of hybrid workplace productivity.

The Q2 WUI revealed changes in workers’ activities while in the office. In Q1, we saw a significantly higher utilization rate for collaboration spaces, at 24%, compared to the workplace utilization rate for individual workpoints, at 18%. That changed in Q2 when the workpoint utilization rate increased by 67%. This indicates that workers are performing a more balanced blend of individual and group work than at the beginning of the return-to-office movement, when workers spent most in-office time participating in group discussions and meetings.

Said Alex Birch, co-founder and CEO of XY Sense, “These findings compound the need for companies to address the incredible amount of waste occurring in commercial real estate. With global annual expenditure on office buildings at US$583B+ and office utilization remaining steady at ~30%, we’re on track to waste potentially $400B in 2023 alone. Additionally, utilities and other services for unused space create billions of tons of unnecessary carbon.  Understanding how your office space is really being used is the first step in reversing this wastage and creating high-engagement, high-performance workplaces.”