Why a flexible workplace shouldn’t mean we ignore individual employee experiences
Big changes across the work landscape should not come at the expense of team connection.
The pandemic era phenomenon known as “The Great Resignation” has seen millions of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs. In January 2022 alone, some 4.3 million workers quit, adding to the staggering 48 million who abandoned their jobs in 2021, according to data from the Labor Bureau.
As reported in a Jobslist survey, several common elements stand out. Roughly 19% of study respondents didn’t like how their bosses treated them; 17% left due to inadequate benefits; and 13% said they lacked work/life balance.
Millions are rethinking their careers, long-term goals, work environments, and how to achieve a healthier work/life balance. Despite the Great Resignation’s unsettling nature, it highlights the enormous need and opportunity for companies to transform most every aspect of their operations. Organizations leveraging that opportunity will be better positioned to address employee satisfaction proactively and also adjust and respond to the constantly shifting marketplace. Otherwise, they’ll struggle to survive.
RECASTING THE OFFICE
When work shifted to remote settings for many employers in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, companies assumed the situation would be temporary. However, as months stretched into years, much of the working population found that they enjoyed working remotely, at least part of the time.
In a 2021 remote work survey, background check provider GoodHire found that 68% of employees preferred working from home, with nearly half declaring they’d either quit or search for new jobs offering remote work if their employers ordered them to return to the office. Many employees expressed they’d take a pay cut or forfeit benefits in exchange for remote work options.
Their enthusiasm is well justified, because even “hybrid” remote work — where in-office and remote work blend together as a flexible routine — has helped many employees establish a healthier work-life balance.
However, a discouraging number of employers are hesitant to adapt to this new normal. According to a study on talent engagement from an ExecuSearch, 25% are employers planning on employees returning to full-time, in-house work. In a 2022 survey by Microsoft, 50% of employers wanted staff in-house five days a week.
The reasons for this insistence are varied. One common argument is that company culture cannot be adequately maintained if workers are scattered. However, a study by the research firm Gartner found that a hybrid work model significantly boosted employee engagement and sense of inclusion.
Remote work can also lead to a sense of isolation among certain employees. A Gensler Research Institute survey found respondents missed most about being in an office was meeting and socializing with colleagues. Further, 7 out of every 10 employees felt more isolated after switching to remote work.
Obviously, something has to give. And business transformation where digitalization plays a central role can be key in leveraging the advantages of remote work arrangements while addressing its drawbacks. As for those downsides, business transformation should also include management helping remote workers to address and mitigate the issues of isolation and loneliness.
A few suggestions include trying these steps:
- Encouraging remote workers not to work from home exclusively. Leaders can beat loneliness to the punch by advocating a variety of office-alternate work settings, such as cafes or parks.
- Urging remote workers to unplug. Leaders can provide a routine that specifies when work ends, such as a certain time of day when emails can go unread or an office door which is closed and left behind.
- Establish a broad network — and don’t talk about just work. Leaders can encourage remote employees to interact with people other than co-workers, and not limiting conversations with colleagues to work matters.
- Leverage the flexibility. Leaders can make certain that remote workers vary their daily downtime. Take a walk, play a video game, or do some gardening or yoga. It’s not professional blasphemy.
- Remind remote workers they’re important team members. Solicit input and feedback from remote workers. Routinely ask them what they would do differently to strengthen the remote work experience.
Remote work, for all its advantages, has its caveats. That balanced perspective can go a long way in making the most of remote work’s potential — not to mention digitalization’s possibilities for all employees, remote and otherwise.
FLEXIBILITY IS NOW A WORKER MUST-HAVE
Employees value greater flexibility, and any sweeping form of transformation that fails to address this is missing an essential target. Leaders often fail to realize just how important genuine flexibility is — so much so that their views of it differ substantially from that of their workforce.
Workers have experienced greater professional flexibility during COVID-19, and one study notes that 79% of professionals want to maintain their newfound flexibility post-pandemic. In a related finding, one in three said they would be willing to take a pay cut in exchange for more flexibility with a new employer.
Unfortunately, this is where a significant disconnect kicks in. The 2021Gartner survey on hybrid work, the researchers found that roughly three-quarters of executive leaders believe they have an established culture of flexibility. By contrast, only 57% of employees believed that their employers truly embraced flexible work. Further, nearly three-quarters of executives believe the business understands how flexible work patterns support employees; only half of employees share this view.
Transformation which includes a significant digital role can narrow that chasm, and digitalization can help cement a commitment to flexibility — a cornerstone of employees’ view of an engaging and supportive place to work.
Excerpt adapted from Lift: Fostering The Leader In You Aid Revolutionary Global Change, Fast Company Press. Copyright © 2022 by Faisal Hoque. All rights reserved.