Recent survey work shows that many more workers want to keep control of the workplace after Covid, but C-Suites are keen to get more employees back into the offices.
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With Americans getting vaccinated – more than half of adults have now received at least one dose – organizations take seriously what a return to the office will look like if not exactly when it will happen for the majority of workers . It’s a shift that creates tense conversations between managers eager to return in person and employees eager for flexibility.
Over the past year, the pandemic highlighted many of the benefits of remote working and accelerated a trend that many career experts say has already happened. Living and working in the same room has its drawbacks. Isolation and pandemic productivity fatigue result in some workers burned out a year after Covid-19 hit the US. However, some workers are willing to start new business to stay away: they can even trade traditional workplace benefits like health care and 401 (k) plans in exchange for more control over their work situation.
Data from a recent survey by WeWork and Workplace Intelligence shows that 75% of employees are willing to give up at least one benefit or perk for being able to choose their work environment, while 64% would pay up to $ 300 for office access. Some of the perks they might want to forgo, according to the survey, are biggies like health insurance, cash rewards, and paid time off.
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It is not just WeWork data that shows why there is likely to be more renegotiations between employers and employees about the work situation after Covid. Prior to the pandemic, only 7% of workers across the country had access to “flexible work” or teleworking, according to a report by Pew Research based on data from a 2019 National Compensation Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In another Pew study of 5,858 working adults in the US, 20% said they worked from home all or most of the time before the pandemic, up from 71% during Covid-19.
“The pandemic gave employers and workers an unexpected and quick test drive remote working,” said Kevin Harrington, CEO of Joblist. “It worked better for some companies than others.”
Hyperproductivity went wrong
It was also not consistently good for employees, regardless of the benefits of spending more time with family and friends and the lack of commuting. The majority of remote workers prior to the pandemic were legal, financial and other service industries. This option is also more generally available to those with at least a bachelor’s degree, women, and Asian workers, Pew reports, indicating a clear division between class and demographics.
Remote working can lead to deterioration in mental health, increased depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, many of whom enter the world of work. These symptoms are often higher in young adults between the ages of 18 and 24.
“The phenomenon we’ve seen over the past 12 months … I’m calling this hyperproductivity the wrong thing,” Tsedal Neeley, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, told CNBC’s Tyler Mathisen at a recent CNBC Workforce Executive Council members’ forum . “We work so much, we produce, we produce, we replace our commuting times with more hours during the day and eventually we hit a wall. We are stressed out. We are burned out and start to feel negative about our work , our teams and our organization. “
Businesses around the world grapple with how to bring workers back safely and efficiently while negotiating new regulations, demands from their workforce, and setbacks from workers hoping to stay away.
“I would definitely think about not being able to enable Hybrid, and for good reason why it is really important for employees to be 9-5 in the office,” said Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft’s chief people officer , across from CNBC’s Tyler Mathisen during a recent @working summit.
Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has described WFH as an “aberration” that the company will “correct as soon as possible.” Remote working is “not ideal” and “not a new normal” for investment banks and companies that need collaboration. JPMorgan Chase expects more employees to return to their office soon, and its CEO Jamie Dimon has given several reasons why he won’t be taking full advantage of Remote.
GM took an interesting approach this week in drafting a new policy, advising employees to “work appropriately”. This was also a reference to the simplified dress code introduced by GM CEO Mary Barra when she was the company’s HR director.
The new negotiations in the workplace
Sarah Stoddard, Glassdoor Careers Expert, believes WeWork data is overrated on traditional accomplishments, where the most common new job negotiations will take place. Core perks like vacation days, 401 (k) plans and paid time off will further increase employee satisfaction, while perks like free food and laundry will undermine their appeal.
“These noticeable perks have no lasting effect,” says Stoddard. “The benefits come and go in a flash.”
From home, employees, especially new hires, miss out on the personal communication and interaction that foster camaraderie and office culture and can lead to alienation and burnout, says Stoddard. This also reduces the separation between work and personal life and results in some employees being overworked as hopping on a call is “easier”.
The tensions become clear in a recent Harvard Business School study of 1,500 remote workers. Only 18% of employees want to return to the office all day. 27% want to work remotely all the time; and 61% want a combination of both. Meanwhile, about 70% of employers want employees back in the office, citing culture concerns, Neeley said.
I don’t think employees should give up anything.
Susan Tohyama, head of human resources at Ceridian
Even with face-to-face arrangements, office spaces look different, with more open conference rooms, fewer cubicles, and in some cases downsizing, which could result in employees meeting in a coffee shop or being given a common space for a day, he says, HR director Susan Tohyama at Ceridian.
The trend towards co-working spaces is becoming more and more common in large and small companies. Earlier this year, Spotify announced a flexible work model that allows employees to work from anywhere, be it from home, in one of the company’s global offices, or in a shared workspace that the company will pay for.
Joining a shared workspace is likely a consideration for employees who live with distractions at home or for companies that choose to close offices, says Stoddard.
The most productive group of workers are those who work successfully from anywhere, according to Neeley, and data suggests that employees who can work from anywhere are happier with their jobs, but poor leadership, inadequate workspace, and distractions can negatively affect this .
Offering a budget for a virtual room could be an alternative to the flashy perks like free food and laundry, but it doesn’t solve the dwindling collaboration, says Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster. “Sure, they can solve a problem where they experience loneliness and isolation, but it doesn’t directly reconnect them to their team,” she says. “There really is no substitute for working in the office and connecting with your colleagues.”
Use past experiences
Decisions about working from home should be made at the upper levels to avoid friction between managers and employees, says Neeley, although another remote work expert from Harvard Business School takes a different view and says teams do best in are able to make decisions, not C-suites or individuals.
For companies with stricter rules, workers can also use past experience to negotiate a more reasonable schedule, said Paul Wolfe, senior vice president of human resources at Indeed.
“If you work in a company with stricter rules, have a conversation with the manager and secure it with data,” says Wolfe. “If you are a strong artist, this is a good thing to bring up in your negotiation.”
Harrington says workers should initiate this conversation and be proactive, and he urges workers to be honest and direct with their managers and treat it like a conversation versus an ultimatum.
Some companies may allow remote working but require attendance in the office for onboarding or quarterly meetings, a joblist initiative that was started from the start. The company has an office in San Francisco, but most of the workforce is remote, said Harrington. Personal is good for relationship building and long-term planning. Companies should survey their employees to measure feedback.
“I don’t think employees should give anything up,” says Tohyama. “I think this is the way of the future.”