By Frances Gain, Associate, Workplace Strategy at M Moser Associates
Resilient. Changed. Unsure? If the last few months have taught us anything, it is that businesses are incredibly resilient and many of the preconceived notions that we had about remote working have been shattered. While working from home, employees have shown a keen ability to adapt to new conditions, remaining productive and happy under trying circumstances. As businesses begin to re-open their offices, they must consider the impact of the last few months on the new skills, attitudes and habits of employees, as well as the hope to continue flexible work policies on a permanent basis.
M Moser Associates conducted a survey with more than 500 respondents on employee and business performance during the pandemic. The results demonstrate what we had suspected – that employees value autonomy, choice, and connection. Flexible workstyles, choice in location and working hours, along with company and peer support (the social capital gained from relationships built in the workplace) bring results. Now, this have been realised, proofed and measured. Our survey reflects how employees feel and what they expect, but the real question is – what is next? How do we retain these learnt benefits and adjust to the next wave of hybrid flexibility? How, when, and how much – do we bring employees back to the office?
Below are some of the most important findings from our survey and an analysis of what they mean for employees and business leaders.
Remote Work Has Not Caused Productivity Levels to Suffer
Many of us have witnessed a range of challenges stemming from remote work. Fifty (50) percent % of the office workers we surveyed reported an uncomfortable work set up, 47% said they had household disruptions and 44% had technology issues.
Despite these obstacles, the survey reveals impressive levels of resilience from companies and employees. When compared to pre-pandemic performance levels, productivity and communication have remained virtually the same. Eighty-nine (89) percent of participants enjoyed consistent or improved productivity within their teams and expressed similar levels of personal productivity.
Internal and external communication, as well as employee wellness and satisfaction levels were also positive, suggesting that companies have successfully adopted virtual communication and implemented measures to promote employee wellness and supportive leadership. As we head back to the office, leaders should maintain the same level of support towards their people as they do towards their bottom line.
Flexibility is No Longer Negotiable
Prior to the pandemic, a third of respondents reported that their company did not offer flexibility in their working policies for practicality or productivity reasons. We believe that given the positive employee performance during the crisis, businesses will no longer have a strong case against employee flexibility.
When asked about ideal working arrangements, 60% of respondents would like a balance of both home and office environments when they return to the workplace, and 86% would go as far as forgoing benefits in exchange for greater flexibility. Organisations must view these findings as a yearning for increased employee autonomy, trust, and choice to accommodate individual working styles, provide maximum comfort for workers and retain top talent.
A Successful Return Requires Two Phases
The return to the office should happen in two phases: re-entering and rethinking. In the re-entering phase, employees must be brought back to work safely and quickly, with relatively low expenditure. The rethinking phase should happen after a business rhythm is stabilized and involves making larger investments in long-term solutions.
When considering both the immediate and long-term, it is no surprise that the elements we have traditionally associated with office life may shift completely. With the coming changes, workers have concerns about re-entry like long commutes, losing their “freedom,” and maintaining their health and safety. Businesses can address these aspects by ensuring employees feel heard, responding to their individual needs, and providing increased flexibility.
Don’t Discount the Importance of Design
A total of 42% of respondents worried about sharing space or being near one another, organizations must also recognize that they can address such concerns through office design. In designing for wellbeing, companies can create an environment that promotes employee happiness and physical and emotional safety, while lessening the likelihood of anxiety and burnout.
Regardless of whether we’ve found enjoyment in working from our living rooms and home offices, we must understand that the workplace still matters. It provides the proper tools, collaborative settings, and resources that we can’t always find in our homes. As we prepare to return, businesses must focus on recognition, supportive leadership, and transparency to address evolving expectations of flexibility – all of which will benefit employees and guide the business goals of the organisation. COVID-19 has accelerated change, proving that flexibility is within reach if work is successfully delivered.