The data now confirms it: the work-from-anywhere/work-from-home model works, and has passed its most crucial test ever, bringing organizations through the Covid crisis and now a key productivity strategy for the workplace of the 2020s. In a recent report out of Accenture, 83% of 9,326 workers surveyed say they prefer a hybrid model — in which they can work remotely at least 25% of the time.
Tellingly, organizations that enable a resilient workforce to be more productive and healthier anywhere are also reaping financial benefits, the study shows. A majority of high-revenue-growth companies, 63%, have already enabled productivity anywhere workforce models, where employees have the option of working remotely or on-site. While the vast majority (69%) of negative or no-growth companies are still focused on where people are going to physically work, favoring all on-site or remote rather than enabling hybrid.
Full-time work from anywhere can be a good thing, but is not optimal for those who are in the earlier stages of their career. Younger people need to be out in the world, forging bonds, gaining mentors, and learning how things work — not sitting alone in front of a screen all day. This is validated by the Accenture survey, which finds a hybrid model that works for all generations may be a challenge: three in four Gen Zers (74%) want more opportunities to collaborate with colleagues face-to-face, a higher percentage than Gen Xers (66%) and Baby Boomers (68%).
Those executives leading their organizations through the work-from-home mandates report that organizational support is key. “The pandemic has fundamentally changed how businesses operate and emphasized the importance of workplace flexibility,” says Edward Wagoner, digital CIO of JLL Technologies. “Through our own evolving workplace processes, we realize the success of short and long-term working strategies hinges on employee safety and comfort, data-driven workplace insights, and adaptability to fluid circumstances like government mandates and requirements.”
The events of the past year did finally put one misconception to rest — that enabling employees to work remotely means loss in productivity. If anything, the past year, showed the opposite to be true. The Accenture survey finds that 40% of individuals feel they can be productive and healthy anywhere — either fully remote or onsite or a combination of the two — as the hybrid workplace emerges.
“The number one thing many HR leaders, myself included, discovered over the past year is that employees are far more adaptable than we anticipated,” says Donna Venable, executive vice president of human resources for Ricoh North America. “Our biggest concern for remote work pre-pandemic was a loss in productivity. However, despite all odds, and competing priorities – from personal health crises, caring for family and dealing with initial technology challenges of remote work – productivity did not waver.”
“This means that we will not go back to a world where employees are ‘allowed’ to work from home, but rather, they are encouraged to be flexible,” says Venable. At the same time, she adds, “I don’t see companies abandoning office space. While there may be some cost savings from a real estate perspective by re-imagining how we use our office space, a far more valuable opportunity is in maintaining a healthy and positive employee culture.”
Hybrid working models “will be critical in the coming months and years ahead as organizations adopt operational flexibility with remote work and evolving employee preferences,” Wagoner says. “No longer will the office serve as the only place where work gets done; the pandemic proved that work can often happen from anywhere. Instead, in today’s world, the office is where people come together to collaborate, innovate, create, and build culture, with face-to-face interactions being a valuable part of the equation.”
The following new ways of thinking — forged through the Covid crisis —may help guide the way to emerging flexible workplace of the 2020s:
- Make resources available to remote workers. “What separates those workers who are productive from those who are disconnected and frustrated is not stress, but whether they have the right resources on an individual and organizational level to help them be productive anywhere,” the Accenture report emphasizes. “These resources range from job autonomy and positive mental health to supportive leadership and a digitally mature organization.”
- Build trust across the board. Companies “must now reimagine their working models and offices to address health and safety standards, prioritize employee trust, and provide a better workplace experience,” says Wagoner. “Business leaders spanning IT, HR, facilities management, and more need to collaborate on comprehensive policies and procedures that build confidence in their workforce and workplace.”
- Emphasize personal connections. “We need to be together to collaborate and connect in ways not possible remotely,” says Venable. “It is something I believe employees are craving after a year without those connections.” This shone a light on another positive outcome, “the natural creation of a flatter corporate culture,” she adds. “Suddenly our leaders were not traveling, they had time for more personal engagement and wanted to ensure their teams were engaged. We also saw this hunger for connection come from employees. We often talk about push and pull in HR, our weekly CEO video chats and townhalls were not a push, but rather a pull.”
- Build digital fluency.“Digitally fluent organizations have higher revenue growth and are more likely to be considered great places to work,” the Accenture study’s authors point out. “Focus on designing tailored skilling and learning paths that serve the needs of all workforce segments.” Venable states that video meeting technology had a huge impact on her company’s ability to connect its remote workforce. “The only real struggle we saw was bandwidth at home for many employees. Not everyone had the connection required to work from home, but once those issues were solved, technology provided a tremendous advantage. It allowed all of us to stay connected in what has been the most disconnected experience we will likely ever face.”
As Covid recedes, “we will emerge with an entirely new perspective on virtual work,” Venable continues. “Employees will not be balancing virtual school with work, and the many other challenges that we are juggling today, and productivity will likely rise as employees can better balance work and life. They can be home when they need to be, and still have the opportunity to meet in person when needed.”