As many radio personalities are apt to say today, “Welcome to a Friday.”
It's a day that has been redefined over the years, especially since a virus we now know as COVID-19 rocked our world just a few years ago. In the process, much has changed in our lives, including attitudes toward careers and our work routines. In that latter category, Fridays may now convey something different than perhaps what they used to.
It wasn't that long ago that “TGIF” (they even named a chain of restaurants after “Fridays”) meant something different than it does today. Friday was that last day of a long, tough workweek, a day that eventually had the word “casual” added to it, even spawning a new chapter in office dress codes – “Casual Fridays.” The term “Monday-through-Friday” was as common in the workplace as “9-to-5.” Today, both describe a very different era that has little to do with reality as we know it.
In today's work environment, Fridays have been hacked. Some companies have eliminated the need to even work on Fridays altogether, ushering in the long-debated “four day workweek.” I wrote about that movement earlier this year, as more and more companies experiment with measuring productivity and employee satisfaction in a Monday-Thursday workweek.
Others are doing it more unofficially. Friday meetings and appointments have slowly but surely disappeared from calendars. Arriving late and leaving early on Fridays has become more commonplace. During the summer, we now have “Summer Hours” on Fridays. And overall expectations that much will get done on this once very busy last day of the week have been tempered. Friday expectations keep getting lowered. It was happening pre-pandemic, but seems to have accelerated since 2020.
Where you're reading this blog post today may be telling. While some of you are, in fact, in your work office, engaging with others at your station or company, many more of you are likely working from home today, or perhaps enjoying some quiet time in a coffee shop or somewhere else.
But what's the trend? What can we expect after the holidays and into the new year? Is the “office comeback” enjoying any momentum or is Work From Home destined to become the unofficial law of the land?
And how will this impact radio – overall listening levels and tune-in to the “drives” – traditionally, the dayparts that have always attracted the most ears and the most advertising dollars? Recently conducted research indicates the new post-COVID order may already be affecting the days of the week radio's programmers and salespeople can count on for the best results, in terms of listening and responding to CTAs – calls to action – from local clients.
Since I started my career in radio, none of these “givens” have ever been shaken by the flux and uncertainty we're seeing now, even as the impacts of COVID fade for so many us. There was never any doubt about the basics – the morning and afternoon drive commutes sandwiched around a long workday where we encouraged people to listen to the radio.
So, which is it – more normalcy in the workplace OR an at-work environment forever altered by WFH and new employer/employee mores?
It depends on who you ask. I'll get there in a minute, but let's first go to research that's a direct reflection of many radio listeners – last summer's Public Radio Techsurvey. When we asked the 10% of our more than 27,000 listeners why they're listening less to public radio over the past year, “spending less time in a car” emerges as the #2 excuse. But a look at the trending for this response shows that since the worst days of COVID in our PRTS 2020 survey, this percentage has been falling:
As the trendline at the top of the chart shows, over four in ten (43%) of those consuming less public radio blame less time on four wheels as the culprit. But that's way down from the worst years of COVID – 2020 and 2021. During the first few months of the pandemic, three-fourths (76%) of those listening fewer quarter-hours with their favorite public radio outlets cited fewer miles on the roads as the “smoking gun.” And the Nielsen ratings showed it.
But we're not back to “normal.” The chart shows us what time spent on the road looked like before we even knew what “social distancing” was – in 2018 and 2019. During those years, only about three in ten listening to less public radio pointed to less time spent in motor vehicles. So, we're not “back.”
Gartner has been tracking the basic issues – who's WFH and who's going into the office, pre and post the pandemic. Here how it shakes out:
That data is echoed in a recent email from Axios reporting on a study compiled by Kastle Systems, a company that tracks who's where by the use of office keycards, fobs, and other security tools. The chart below shows how office occupancy rates are up by weekday from 2021 to this year. You can see the impact of the “Friday fade.” But note that Mondays – once a very heavy in-the-office day lags behind the middle weekdays. Tuesdays and Wednesdays now have a clear cut lead, with “Hump Day” eking out a narrow win.
But in another sign of shifting sands, LinkedIn has a unique data set to share – the percentage of “remote job” postings on their site.
Since April, they report these WFH job opportunities are down 5 points. Back then, one-fifth (20%) of their postings were for jobs that didn't require the employee to physically show up.
While that's an indication a shift may be happening toward working in a cubicle or behind a desk, the pre-pandemic job listings for remote work averaged only 2%. So even while remote work opportunities may be slowing, they still make up a larger share of jobs than before. Technology was setting the tone even before COVID.
CNBC's Sophie Kiderlin suggests the economic downturn, punctuated by layoffs and RIFs, might swing the pendulum back to employers having their way. She notes “those who have gotten used to flexible working might soon have a rude awakening.”
She points out that as more companies put layoffs into effect, there will be a noticeable lack of perks, including working location flexibility. Already, Meta (Facebook) has announced 11,000 layoffs (13% of its total workforce), while Amazon has instituted a corporate hiring freeze through the end of the year, and Lyft is now 700 jobs lighter thanks to layoffs.
But then there's the Twitter trauma. Elon Musk recently cut 3,700 employees, about half of Twitter's total staff.
In a new communiqué to his remaining workforce, the New York Times quotes Musk that things may get worse: “The economic picture ahead is dire.” He reinforced that observation with the reality that Twitter is bleeding $4 million a day in losses.
Regarding Twitter’s reduction in force, unfortunately there is no choice when the company is losing over $4M/day.
Everyone exited was offered 3 months of severance, which is 50% more than legally required.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 4, 2022
As a part of his Twitter restructuring, Musk told his employees they must show up at the office (starting yesterday) for a minimum of 40 hours a week. You may recall Twitter employees have all been able to work remotely since the onset of the pandemic.
Will these changes transform the work environment in the U.S. seismically or will they end up just being a ripple? Management by brute force is rarely popular, especially among younger workers. When you pay $43 billion for a company like Twitter, something has to give.
And radio listening – in the car and “at-work” will most assuredly be affected by these tectonic shifts in workforce protocols.
As it turns out, I'm in the office today. Meet me at the watercooler and let's talk about it.
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CLARK SMIDT says
Essential commentary for evolving times. Radio companionship is everywhere: Cars, Phones, Computers, Home Receivers, Digital Streams.
Dave Mason says
Always poignant, always relevant, Clark. Your comments are so true. . too bad the human element (i.e. the human companion) is disappearing.
Fred Jacobs says
Dave Mason says
From the days if “housewife time” to “treat street” – to the advent of “your at work station”, radio’s place has been eroded by the streaming services, the Sirius/XMs and the abundance of MP3 on someone’s device. The personal touch, as in a live personality being part of the mix has been eroded by broadcasters big -time. Even in a “live” setting the jocks would get 3-4 times an hour to interact with the listener. (Did I have say this?) Broadcasting used to find new ways to engage the listener and reinvent itself. I’m pretty sure that the next exciting audio medium can do that, but it hasn’t happened yet. Will it be broadcast or streaming ? What will happen when Howard retires ? The evolution of mass media continues, as we wait for the “next” thing. Let’s hope it appears soon!
Eric Jon Magnuson says
I can’t assume that it’s any sort of a WFH-related move, but Portugal’s M80 has now started promoting Fridays as “Power Weekend”–with a specifically upbeat music mix. (Today, there happens to be a lot of Use Your Illusion-era Guns n’ Roses, but more because there’s also a giveaway of the newly remastered, commemorative edition.)
Fred Jacobs says
Eric, sounds like a calculated move that is designed to match the change in work/life time. Thanks for this.
Ian Chambers says
Interesting, as ever. In the UK there is a trend for a different radio schedule on Fridays, some main presenters only working a Mon to Thurs schedule. Having been a long term WFHer, when tapping on keyboard, I certainly listened to more radio than ever there
Fred Jacobs says
I would think so, Ian. Thanks for the glimpse aat what’s happening in the UK.
Mike Bills says
Has radio listening been in decline since COVID began because of WFH? If so, I defy that trend. I’ve worked from home since the beginning of the pandemicand continue to listen to my favorite station, as well as other stations not in my market.
Leo Edelstein says
Fridays could be good for a salesperson. Especially as business call-ins ticked up for recruitment help. If I was the last one in on a Friday afternoon, I might get the call in. A rarity, but a chance. What say you sales?