It's no secret that there has been a major shift in work dynamics in the last two years directly influenced by the global pandemic. The power of when and where work gets done has shifted from the employer to the employee as workers have been able to have more control over where they live and operate independently from the office. Because of these changes, employees want flexibility and understanding from their employers as they begin to reevaluate their careers.
The question is, what does this new employee sentiment surrounding the return to office mean for employers and other stakeholders as they begin to model the "new normal" of office culture?
Employees want Flexibility Without Compromising Connection.
People all over the world are eager to reconnect after years of being unable to due to social distancing and lockdowns that were brought on by COVID-19. Not being able to physically meet with colleagues has left many employees feeling completely separate from their workplace creating an absence of community and overall office culture. Although there is a desire among employees to have the flexibility to work where is most convenient to them, there are still some observable negative effects following a remote-only office model.
Three major adverse effects employees are experiencing due to working completely remote are burnout, decreased social capital, and lower productivity.
Right now employee burnout is at an all-time high. Longer work days, zoom fatigue, and isolation are top contenders driving dissatisfaction rates.
In a study done by ADP, it was seen that people who work completely remote are much more likely to "feel their work is suffering due to poor mental health compared to their colleagues in the workplace (55% versus 36%)" (ADP). Being unable to draw a line between work life and home life, employees are subjected to a work day that never seems to end. In comparison to their counterparts in the office, remote-only workers can be subjected to working as many as 8 extra hours per week. This in tandem with their living spaces becoming makeshift offices creates a harmful blur between their professional and personal worlds.
Workers are ready to make a change in their remote schedules and transition to different modes, see our March Workplace Experience Newsletter for more information on employee preference.
The office of the past had a distinct culture and with required attendance, employees were able to connect and collaborate with their colleagues easily and face to face. Now in the time of remote and hybrid work, teams are liable to become extremely disconnected. Some employees have never even met the coworkers that they work the closest to outside of their computer screens. When human interaction became as limited as it did during the pandemic, feelings of isolation and depression skyrocketed. Now as we look forward past COVID-19, people want to socialize and be around others more than ever to reunify with their team members and regain social capital in the workplace.
A recent study found that when people feel connected with their colleagues and belong in a team they not only performed better, but the desire for group acceptance was a greater motivator than promotion or any other monetary value (NIH). An increased connection among co-workers can boost performance, productivity, and the overall well-being of employees if they are able to come together in person again.
In early 2020 when offices first shifted to remote work, productivity gains could be seen among employees. With all other aspects of life put on pause and lockdowns sweeping the nation, people had more time to dedicate to their work, clocking much longer days. Although these gains might have been present initially, they were fleeting. Job security during the pandemic was uncertain and people worked feverishly to solidify their spot in the office which Forbes calls “panic productivity,” (Forbes). But now as other facets of life are returning to normal at full force, the office is trailing behind and the growing pains are evident. People don't have the time anymore to sit at home all day and focus solely on work as transitionary stressors are building up and making it harder to devote all of their time to their job.
In a nutshell, workers are tired and burned out. Productivity that sticks requires balance and cannot solely rely on the adrenaline that comes with a shifting work environment and uncertainty around job security. Personal and professional lives need to be separate and flexible to rejuvenate and support our workforce.
Rise of the Experience-Focused Office That Puts Employees First
From this data, it is obvious to see that there is a desire amongst workers to have some sort of hub to separate work and home while also enabling much-needed social interaction and comradery. However, this doesn't mean that employers can immediately move towards a five-day-a-week schedule again. In fact, the future of work will likely look nothing like how it did before the pandemic. Two-thirds of the 32,000 employees polled in a recent study by ADP expressed that they would consider a major career change if they were required to return to in-person work full time (ADP).
The key is creating a human-centric approach to the office that puts worker well-being before anything else. One that provides amenities, collaboration, camaraderie, and health & safety in its design and operations and incentivizes returning back in person.
In order to do that, three things must happen:
- Employers must remind their workforce why it matters to come to the office and the things that they can gain if they decide to commute a few times a week.
- They must also create a flexible environment that makes the well-being of their workers paramount and allows for autonomy and compassion.
- Office Occupancy Data where workers can report days that they will be in person vs remote.
This model could also be helpful to ease the pain of zoom fatigue and curb some of the productivity loss. With transparent office occupancy analytics handy, meetings could be held in person instead of zoom, and colleagues can collaborate and share ideas face to face.
Now more than ever people are reevaluating the role that works plays in their lives and what they want from their job.
If employers do not meet employees' needs of flexibility and understanding, they are at risk of losing their workforce to companies that will.