Breaking the RTO Plateau

I didn’t fully appreciate the revolution in office culture until my family came to visit me recently. While my spouse and I enjoyed a now-complimentary coffee, the kids were entertained by the views and televisions in the newly-opened tenant lounge and the foosball table in the cafeteria. I’m happy to report that when they grow up, they want to work for Northern Trust.

Improved workplace amenities were the friendly enticements for employees to return to the office. They may have helped some workers decide to leave their home desks. However, the professional reopening has hit a plateau. In badge-swipe data from Kastle Systems, the revival of office occupancy leveled off in the second half of 2022. Workers settled into rhythms of hybrid work, coming back to the office at a cadence they personally found convenient.

The tug of war over returning to offices is likely to intensify.

As the new year unfolds, more managers will contemplate less sociable requirements to return to the office (RTO), setting minimum attendance requirements. Bosses who have taken a hard line in favor of RTO cite the needs for collaboration, cross-training and building culture. While intuitive, these are hard goals to quantify. And lease payments are difficult to justify for vacant offices.

Some managers may expect higher productivity in the office, but this is a topic of strong opinions and much ongoing research. Workers cite their reclaimed time from commuting, lunch lines and casual interactions as offering more time to work. U.S.-based workers who skip a morning commute gain more time to communicate with overseas time zones.