In March 2020 most knowledge workers shifted to a remote-first workplace, working primarily from their homes with a number of virtual tools.
What employees needed in April and May is vastly different from what employees need today, and what they expect to need in the future. As you plan for a return to work – likely in a hybrid format – here are a few considerations for your company and your team.
The Future Workplace is Fluid
Twitter was one of the first to announce a fully-remote workplace during the Covid-19 pandemic. In May 2020 they told their staff they could continue to work from home permanently. Over the following months, similar accommodations were made by Big Tech companies Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and many of San Francisco’s smaller technology companies.
Since these initial announcements were made, many have since been revised.
Facebook proposed permanent remote work for employees in May, with their CEO aspiring “to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at [their] scale.” Many employees were excited about the change with a reported 75% of employees saying they were highly confident they would relocate their residences, despite pay cuts for those moving away from San Francisco.
Meanwhile, Facebook has made significant capital commitments signaling their future need for physical space, including a 730,000 square foot lease in Manhattan and the $368 million purchase of REI’s former headquarters in Seattle.
In July, Microsoft announced they were planning for a return to the workplace in early 2021, while a subsequent release in October changed these plans and offered employees the opportunity to work from home permanently. Under this new model, employees could relocate their residences (albeit with potentially lower compensation) and seek other remote-work accommodations, with Microsoft’s primary goal of “providing their employees with as much flexibility as possible.”
Others have made similar declarations, only to revise their plans shortly after. As employers navigate the shift to a hybrid work mode, it’s important that they consider the current and future needs of their teams before making any long-term shifts to their operations.
Flexibility is a Universal Benefit for Remote Employees, Struggling is also Universal
Flexibility means different things to different people, however the ability to maintain flexibility while working remotely was deemed a universal benefit by approximately 3,500 people in Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work.
Flexibility covered a number of preferences and included everything from having a flexible schedule, working from different locations (office, home or varying geographies), eliminating a daily commute, the ability to spend time with family and pets, and more effectively commingling personal activities like fitness with work activities.
On the other hand, while employees enjoyed their newfound freedom, approximately 70% of respondents reported that they struggled with remote work. The most common struggles included loneliness, a lack of communication and collaboration with colleagues, not being able to unplug (working longer hours, and feeling always on), fighting to stay motivated and battling distractions like household chores, childcare and pet duties.
When considering employees’ needs, flexibility can be a broad term; understanding what it means to your team is critical. Microsoft’s goal of providing their employees with flexibility should appeal to those interested in a hybrid work environment. Whether they can provide these employees with the type of flexibility they’re seeking, while minimizing their struggles, remains to be seen.
Productivity is Slightly Easier to Measure than Culture
Remote employees claim to be more productive at home, or in a hybrid work environment, than when they’re working full-time from an office setting.
Hubstaff’s data supports this sentiment, while executives at JP Morgan claimed that “productivity slipped” as employees worked from home during COVID-19 and “work output was particularly affected on Mondays and Fridays.” Other more outspoken CEOs like Reed Hastings at Netflix doesn’t “see any positives” and stated that “not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative.”
Netflix has long been an advocate of unique corporate cultures, one of the intangible elements that many executives believe is more difficult to monitor in a remote setting. While productivity can be monitored through activity and task management, or through less ethical means like tracking software, intangibles like goodwill and company culture are notoriously difficult to observe. Gallup’s data shows that “employees who work virtually are even more disconnected from core cultural components.” The impact of remote work on an organization’s culture isn’t as evident, as more current metrics like the volume of sales calls completed or invoices processed each month.
As more companies consider a long-term shift towards a hybrid workplace, it’s beneficial to consider how your team will perform their daily tasks while remaining connected to your company and its culture.
Matt Carlson is Senior Vice President and Tech Sector Leader at Colliers International.
Photo by Nastuh Abootalebi on Unsplash