The Return to Work Featured image

The Return To Work—What Should Your Organization Do?

As vaccination programs roll out, we’re entering a post-pandemic period in which how and where we work will again see a major shift.

If you’re reading this, you’re no doubt deliberating whether or not to return to the office, go fully remote, or perhaps a hybrid of the two.

As an executive, you might be gunning for a full return to the office and pulling the plug on remote working. But, before you do that, first consider that there may be some disconnect between what you want and what your team members would like.

Return to Work: What Do Employees Want?

Numerous studies carried out over the last year indicate that the pandemic has shifted employee attitudes towards working. Let’s go through some of the major ones. 

From Microsoft: The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready?

The takeaways:

  • 41% of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current employer within the next year, with 46% planning to make a major pivot or career transition.
  • Of the 41% looking to leave their current employer, 46% say they’re likely to move because they can now work remotely.
  • Over 70 percent of workers want flexible remote work options to continue.
  • Sixty-one percent of leaders say they are “thriving” right now—23 percentage points higher than those without decision-making authority.
  • Sixty percent of Gen Z—those between the ages of 18 and 25—say they are merely surviving or flat-out struggling right now.
  • Companies became more siloed than they were before the pandemic.
  • Remote job postings on LinkedIn increased more than five times during the pandemic.
  • Physical office space must be compelling enough to entice workers to commute in and include a mix of collaboration and focus areas. Meeting rooms and team culture will need to evolve to ensure all voices are heard.

From PWC: It’s time to reimagine where and how work will get done

The takeaways:

  • 83% of employers say the shift to remote working has been successful for their company.
  • 87% of employees agree the office is important for collaborating with team members and building relationships—their top-rated needs for the office.
  • Over half of employees (55%) would prefer to be remote at least three days a week.
  • For executives, 68% say a typical employee should be in the office at least three days a week to maintain a distinct company culture.
  • Respondents with the least amount of professional experience (0-5 years) are more likely to want to be in the office more often. Thirty percent of them prefer being remote no more than one day a week vs. just 20% of all respondents.
  • While 81% of executives say their company has been successful in extending benefits for childcare, just 45% of employees say the same.
  • Employees who report decreased productivity when working remotely are more likely to be back in the office earlier.
  • 65% believe the office is “very important” to increasing employee productivity, while over half also consider the office very important for employee collaboration, providing spaces to meet with clients and enabling the company culture.
  • 43% of executives prefer limited schedules or want to be fully back in the office as soon as feasible, while only 24% expect many or all office employees to work remotely for a significant amount of their time.

From FlexJobs: Survey Finds Employees Want Remote Work Post-Pandemic

The takeaways:

  • 58% of workers said they would “absolutely” look for a new job if they cannot continue remote working in their current role.
  • When asked, respondents ranked “cost savings” as the number two benefit of remote work (75%), with “not having a commute” ranking number one (84%).
  • (55%) of workers said that their productivity has increased while working remotely, and about one-third said their productivity has remained the same.
  • Overworking, or an inability to unplug, was the biggest challenge faced by most workers (35%).

From Limeade: Facing the Challenges of Returning to Work

The takeaways:

  • 48% of individuals said they are happy with the amount of social connection they are experiencing with peers and would like it to remain the same, while only 20% wanted the current amount of social connection to change.
  • More people said that their company had not asked for their feedback about return to work policies or procedures (55.7%) than those whose companies actually had (40.5%). Do note that this study was conducted during late January 2021. 

Whilst what people say they do, and what they actually do, can vary greatly, these studies are definitely worth considering when deciding what’s best for your organization. 

So…

What Should Your Organization Do?

Let’s review the data collected from the studies above and how it should guide your decision-making when planning your organization’s return to work.

Firstly, have you spoken with your employees in regards to how the return to work process should work? 

When Limeade conducted their study in late January 2021, only 40.5% of those surveyed were asked for feedback from their employers. We trust that our employees generally know what works best for them, so it makes sense to ask, right? 

Do consider the consequences of pushing for more time in the office, or back to five days a week. 

If your organization is considering halting remote work altogether, don’t be surprised if some employees announce their departures. From the study FlexJobs conducted, 58% would look for a new job if remote work was no longer an option.

This is definitely something to take note of if you’re interested in retaining and attracting top talent.

There is a gap between what executives want versus what employees want in regards to how many days are remote. 

The PWC study found that, while most executives want employees to spend three days in the office, most employees are looking for three days remote

So, again, if you push for more in office than remote, don’t be surprised if team members leave for positions where more flexibility is offered. 

Either bringing staff back into the office or taking more of a hybrid approach, be sure that you keep up with the well-being of staff.

This is one of those gaps that exist between executives’ perception and employee perception. As was found in Microsoft’s study, executives were much more likely to feel they were thriving during the pandemic compared to employees. 

We’ve talked a lot over the last year about wellness, or the check-in, but was your organization actually doing so, or only thinking they were doing so? 

Work-life saw a major shift, with many employees struggling to shut off after their work was done for the day. Returning to the office will make it easier for those to distinguish between work life and home life. 

I did see and work with a number of organizations over the last year bringing well-being to the forefront, and one of the ways to do so was to give employees a lot more leeway in leading initiatives.

For example, this includes employee-led initiatives like lunch and learns, zoom yoga taught by an employee, or cooking classes. 

Organizations were much more open to trying out different strategies and tactics to focus on well-being due to the change in how we worked.

I’d hate for organizations to let this focus on well-being slip and fall back into old habits in which the well-being of employees wasn’t as much of a focus. 

Whether your organization moves back to a hybrid model or back into the office, remember to take what you learned and what worked well for focusing on the well-being of your staff. The tactics and approaches may change, but your strategy should not falter. 

Make life easier for employees with benefits they really want and how the office should be.

Organizations have had the last year to really see if their offices matter that much. 

Did you find that staff were missing it, or was it a case that having greater flexibility and not having to worry about commutes were more beneficial?

One of the benefits that your organization needs to look into is childcare for parents. There was a large gap in how executives felt about addressing the needs of childcare compared to how employees actually felt about it. 

In regards to how the office looks in the future of work, it’s not about being productive (as most found they were more productive at home)—it’s about having the ability to collaborate with others. 

Now’s a great time to also look at moving away from the commonly used open space setup (which, looking at research, doesn’t create as much collaboration as one may think) towards a system that makes sense for those who may only be in the office 2-3 days a week and office time is more of a collaboration day.

What Are the Big Tech Companies Doing?

Now let’s take a look at what some of the largest, most well-known tech companies are doing post coronavirus in regards to reopening their offices, and their future approach for remote workers. 

The reason I am focusing on these companies is they are widely-imitated trendsetters regarding how they approach organizational culture, something I call the FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) Effect.

What is somewhat disappointing about these findings is that a number of these organizations did scale back from what they were saying last year when coronavirus first hit.

A number of the organizations in the past year have changed their tune about reopening their offices instead of, what seemed at the time, unprecedented levels of flexibility. 

The reason I bring this up is that time and time again I’ve witnessed organizations make choices that go against their DNA because they decide to copy large companies like Google or Facebook.

Don’t be a sheep! I’d hate for some companies, who have found remote work to be successful for them, blindly copy these organizations and make their team members unhappy.

I will just sit here at home Image Meme

Join the Discussion

The return to the office—or not—is a delicate process. When deciding what’s best for your organization it’s worth taking note of the studies above and, more importantly, getting feedback from your team members about what works for them.

If you want some advice on how to do this, or indeed wish to impart some, leave a question or response in the comments. You can also join the People Managing People Community where you can connect and share knowledge with experienced industry professionals.

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