A study by Toluna, a tech company operating in the market research space, looked at the attitudes of employees towards virtual work. The results point to a workforce eager to get back into the office. In fact,19 percent of those surveyed have already returned to the workplace, with one-third thinking they will this summer. In addition, more than half of those surveyed have been contacted by their employer within last three months about returning to work. Unsurprisingly, most would only consider going back to the office if the following were to happen:
- Vaccines 63%
- Social distancing 59%
- Employers offers a hybrid work environment 51%
- Regular testing 49%
Who would have thought a year ago, when many of us were sent home to work in the comfort of our own furniture and sweats, that we’d be eager to get back in the office? But many employees miss what virtual just can’t seem to replicate. The study showed that many people missed the following:
- In person sharing sessions 25%
- Atmosphere 23%
- The small talk and social aspect in between work tasks 18%
- The motivation ad inspiration that a workplace creates 16%
- In person team building 12%
Not only do they miss the inside of offices, but they miss the travel most of all. Most Americans, 82 percent, are missing business travel and think in-person meetings are better than virtual. 42 percent expect to be back to business travel this summer and 16 percent are traveling for business already.
The future is hybrid. However, an overwhelming majority from the study agree that virtual work is here to stay, in some capacity. Almost half of respondents, 46 percent, want to return to workplace part time. Of those who are willing to come into the office, only 27 percent say they want to return to working five days in the office.
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Overwhelmingly, most think, 90 percent, the future is a hybrid model where some days employees work from the office and some days from home. What will companies and their leaders need to do in order to successfully move back to in-person work?
Get employees to feel safe in the workplace. 83 percent of respondents to the survey stated they will agree to get vaccinated, if vaccination is mandatory to return to the workplace, and the majority feel, 78 percent, that everyone returning to workplace should get the vaccine. However, until the vaccine is mandatory, most believe, 80 percent, that regular testing in workplace is needed.
Plan, train and budget for the new technical demands of the job. Yogesh Gupta, CEO, Progress, a global software company, recommends leaders to, “Invest in state-of-the-art technology infrastructure and digital communication tools that enable maximum interaction for your teams. Continually reinvest as those tools continue to evolve. The dividends of that effort extend from employee productivity to staying connected with the entire business ecosystem.”
Proactively address diversity, inclusion and equity issues and opportunities. It’s critical to address the negative impact that working from anywhere may have on certain groups of employees. For instance, working mothers have always faced a full day of work, followed by childcare and household responsibilities. Covid-19 has made this balancing act even more complex with the introduction of remote and hybrid learning. 2020 has been called the ‘shecession’ due to the extremely high number of women that have left the workforce.
“Companies need to integrate flexibility into their values and processes to retain top talent and stay diverse and inclusive. They also need to provide new levels of health information and resources that employees need to remain productive, and to maintain both mental and physical health while working from anywhere,” recommends Gupta. Without addressing these issues, companies risk losing the diversity they hired for by not providing the equitable support and opportunities that have been afforded to cis, white male employees or employees without the responsibilities of child or elder care at home.
Foster a common culture. How do you create and sustain an organization’s common culture, especially when employees change roles or new employees join? This becomes especially important due to the lack of face-to-face meetings, impromptu gatherings and informal mentoring that takes place when one is surrounded by one’s colleagues.
“In Progress’ case, we tackle that challenge with a steady series of events and team-building activities to keep employees engaged, connected and motivated. We’ve started a mentoring program that is being conducted virtually, as well as holding informal virtual ‘office hours.’ Businesses must stay intentional about culture and get creative about simulating informal spaces, enabling remote workers to have digital water cooler moments to reinforce connectedness and community,” shares Gupta.
Open your mind to new recruiting and hiring opportunities. More businesses are recognizing that the work from anywhere world opens great possibilities when it comes to talent. While hiring hubs are here to stay, centered around geographic talent pools, a virtual model opens significant opportunity to recruit the best and most diverse applicant mix for any given role. “This makes recruitment very competitive, which will require businesses to think creatively about hiring practices and to be more transparent, as many candidates are now looking more closely at inclusion and diversity,” emphasizes Gupta.
Get ahead of remote work fatigue and the new definition of productivity. When the first of lockdowns hit last year, many managers scrambled and stressed over how to ensure their staff was actually working while at home. As it turned out, the opposite problem arose more often than not. With workspaces at home, it has become easy to always be working. That becomes exhausting and isn’t sustainable, so it’s important to remind workers frequently to step away to refuel and recharge.
This includes encouraging employees to take time off, even if they don’t have a planned vacation. “Conventional wisdom is that productivity has gone up during this pandemic, and that’s likely true for personal productivity—work you can do by yourself. But I also believe that collaborative productivity has suffered,” calls out Gupta. Identifying ways for real-time collaboration and building strong connections across functions need to be made a ‘need to have’ vs. the ‘nice to have’ focus collaboration has received in the past.