2020 marked a stark shift in how the global workforce operates.
Seemingly overnight, billions of professionals were forced to work from home. While some felt that this would be a week-long, exaggerated protective measure, the unforeseen reality would shake the foundation of society as a whole.
The past year uprooted decades-long misconceptions about the most optimal business strategies.
Fortunately, the workplace trends derived from mass adversity now have the ability to transform the way in which people work for the better.
Being forced to stay and work indoors reset the priorities of employees.
Now, workers are emerging from the pandemic understanding the importance of having a true work-life balance, spending more time with family, and being near nature.
Covid-19 undoubtedly gave the workforce a reality check. When facing the unknown, an injection of empathy percolated from the top down.
Leaders finally realized that the former way of working had much room for growth. From where we work, how we work, and when we work — the traditional 9 to 5 structure quickly started to seem obsolete.
The numerous surveys and research conducted proves this too.
Getting a taste of remote working conditions has opened the eyes of workers more than ever before.
Workers now prefer being free from:
- Daily commutes
- Professional office attire
- A single office or cubicle
- Strict scheduling
And these desires are ringing louder than ever as parts of the world slowly reopen.
In fact, 1 out of 3 employers expect their workforce to be at least 40% remote one year post-COVID-19.
Despite the devastating year that the world has had, there has been a glimmer of hope in how the workforce treats its employees in a way that is mutually beneficial.
The numerous lessons business leaders have gained for the past year have all derived from one overarching realization:
Employees do not need to work in one singular location every day.
For decades, leaders have abided by the belief that working in the office 8 hours a day, five days a week is the most optimal strategy for productivity and company culture.
However, the past year has shattered those notions.
Because workers were offered more freedom working from home, many were able to identify their own methods of working that best accommodated their lives.
For instance, working parents may have found they are more productive in the evenings when their kids have gone to sleep for the night and their home life is a little quiet.
On the other hand, others may have found they are most productive first thing in the morning.
Wherever their optimal work time falls, the past year has allowed employees to explore these options.
Even more, because professionals are able to choose the schedule that works best for their needs, working from home has allowed them to spend more time doing activities they enjoy, such as:
- Taking walks outdoors
- Helping children with their homework
- Sitting down for meals with their families
- Spending time on personal hobbies and interests
In fact, research from GitLab found that 47% of people said that being around green space or nature was their favorite aspect of their work location.
Being able to spend time with the things that bring us joy is vital to job satisfaction.
And if the past year has taught business leaders anything, it’s that the employee experience is crucial to a healthy workplace.
Without it, employees face the possibility of job cynicism, and more drastically, burnout.
Hybrid Work Models
The rigid structure of pre-pandemic workplace trends offered little to no flexibility. Prior to the events of last year, employees often had to sacrifice enjoyment in their personal lives in order to meet work demands.
This is despite the fact that employees have preferred to work from home for years.
Because of this, workers have grown to become more cynical and unmotivated in their jobs, often going with the flow with little inspiration and creativity to guide them through their tasks.
But what if there was a way for workers to nourish both their professional and personal lives simultaneously?
Companies are experimenting with this possibility by adopting hybrid work models.
In fact, research from Alliance Virtual Offices has found that 68% of workers prefer a hybrid work model.
This nearly solidifies the fact that employees do not want to return to the main office full-time.
But this change in sentiment should not come as a shock to anyone.
Historically, unprecedented events have always caused a shift in culture. Whether it was women joining the workforce when men went to fight in World War 2, or extra security measures being implemented at airports following the 9/11 attacks.
Covid-19 and its impact are no different.
In an effort to preserve their wellbeing and mental health, workers want a bigger say in their work environment.
And what better way to support them than to give them the option to work from home, in the office, or both?
A Shift In Employee Work Preferences
The experience of working from home has caused a Great Awakening.
A PwC found that 83% of employees strongly prefer to have at least one day to work from home each week.
It’s understandable — why would an employee relinquish the quality of life improvement they’ve experienced over the past year or so?
However, employers who are overly eager to bring workers back into the office continue to ignore what their workers want for their own purpose.
For instance, companies like JPMorgan Chase are quickly bringing their employees back into their buildings under the guise that productivity and community have been hindered.
However, most data does not support this claim.
A survey from Prudential revealed that, of the 26% of employees who are searching for a new job post-pandemic regardless of their current employer’s remote work options, only 2 out of 5 gave their employer’s culture a grade of “C” or lower while working from home.
Knowing this, it is puzzling why such large companies would make moves not in the interests of their employees.
Whether it’s not willing to let go of micromanaging tactics, wanting to keep their large office buildings filled with bodies, or simply because they are reluctant to admit their former strategies were not the most effective, going against the grain is doing little for employee sentiment.
Workers know what practices and policies best serve their work day and their personal lives.
Now, it appears top talent are not afraid of leaving behind their employers in favor of a position that values their desires.
Companies Benefit, Too
Research has shown that 87% of companies will change their real estate strategy to adapt to remote work within the next year.
And it’s no wonder why.
Not only is offering more flexible arrangements helpful to workers themselves, employers have the ability to:
- Cut down on overhead costs
- Decrease turnover rates
- Increase job satisfaction
- Boost motivation, creativity, and productivity
- Improve their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts
- Build a reputation that attracts top talent
In a time where the workforce expands beyond the geographical borders of a company’s headquarters, the competition for top talent has ramped up more than ever before.
Meaning businesses who do not adjust their policies risk falling behind.
Recent research from anonymous survey platform Blind, which received responses from technology workers across companies like Amazon and Facebook, found that workers who were unsatisfied with their employers’ remote working policies want to leave their positions.
92% of employees at job recruiting platform Indeed, which offers full work from home policies for most roles, were satisfied with the company’s policies.
By contrast, Uber’s policy of requiring employees to return to the office starting in September saw only a 37% satisfaction rate and 42% of respondents stated they wanted to leave the company.
In short, employee sentiment about their workplace arrangements has clearly made a pivot due to their experiences during the peak of the pandemic.
The Risk Of Neglecting Flexibility
Our research has proven that workers want a say in where and when they work.
But this demand goes beyond a nice-to-have amenity — it’s now a necessity.
This goes beyond just retaining the workforce. It means protecting the actual physical and mental health of workers.
Throughout the pandemic, around 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, which is up from one in ten adults from January to June 2019 according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Because the past year has led to a spike in mental health issues, many people have turned to substances like alcohol to ease the stress this uncertainty has caused.
A survey from the American Addiction Centers found that 5,541 hours of work were lost during the pandemic due to employees experiencing hangovers.
Even more, Statista revealed that 26.3% of workers stated that hangovers played a significant role in which hours they worked.
However, the blame of this increase in substance reliance and overall decrease in mental health shouldn’t just be solely placed on the pandemic.
The way employers responded to this drastic change needs to be addressed as well.
Remote working is that it is only as beneficial as the policies that surround it. Unfortunately, working from home has brought out more micromanaging tactics than ever before.
So what exactly determines the best remote working policies that can actually enhance employee sentiment?
- Avoiding using software programs that track employee keystrokes and how long they have been sitting at their desks
- Providing specific guidelines for remote work practices
- Implementing policies that support workers who are struggling with their mental health, such as access to therapists
- Offering tools and resources that are necessary for the remote workforce, such as laptops and ergonomic furniture
- Encouraging employees to set boundaries in their work from home schedule, and ensuring that colleagues understand when they are in the office
Without these guidelines, a remote workforce can quickly become a muddled mess that lacks communication and sends workers down a path of potential burnout.
Real Estate Implications
As mentioned above, companies are expected to shift their post-pandemic real estate strategies.
This proves that most businesses realize the necessity of addressing remote work, and are prepared to make changes to their real estate footprint as needed.
For example, Google recently revealed that it would be slowing its expansion in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, an area where it has increasingly grown its presence since 2011.
While this may simply be due to the company looking to focus its efforts elsewhere, it speaks volumes about the impact excess space is having on companies.
Why would a business continue paying to lease an entire building if only a portion of employees are coming into the office, possibly forever?
This is why more and more organizations are offloading their real estate and turning to new methods of incorporating office space into their network.
And this trend is being echoed across some of the world’s largest companies.
Take clothing retailer Ralph Lauren.
In February, the company announced it would cut down up to 30% of its corporate real estate in North America.
Likewise, CVS Health revealed it would reduce its office space by 30% in an effort to decrease overall costs.
So what does this mean for the future of office real estate?
While, no, the office isn’t dead despite the premature claims that analysts made at the beginning of the pandemic, it will look much different than before.
The future of the physical workplace trends will likely involve:
- A network of suburban offices, primarily located in flexible workspaces or coworking offices
- More collaborative areas and less private offices
- An increase of health-related protocols, such as sanitation stations
- More technology implementation to help with health and safety policies, such as software that monitors the occupancy of the space
- Ergonomic furniture that supports employees physical health
- An increase of greenery and outdoor access to improve the air quality of the space as well as enhance the mental health of employees
All of these changes are necessary if companies want to bring employees back to the physical office at all.
Without them, companies are bound to lose money on unnecessary real estate costs.
What Do These Trends Mean?
When offered the option to work from home, only 4% of workers chose to come into the office.
As our research has shown, the future of the workforce won’t be a place that requires employees to come into the office every day for a set amount of time.
Instead, we can expect forward-thinking companies to adopt more flexible policies such as:
- Choice of work schedule, including time off
- Telecommuting when desired
- Shorter work weeks
- Using flexible or coworking spaces instead of the main office
In doing so, companies prove that the employee experience is important to them — as it should be.
Future Trends Of Workplace
So what’s next?
The lessons of the pandemic have left workers realizing that they can actually have their cake and eat it too.
The past year has taught the world that having the ideal work environment, without sacrificing their own preferences and health, is actually possible.
Of course, this means changes in terms of policies, practices, office space, and more.
Companies who are applying the lessons learned from the past year are likely to continue offering remote work as an option for employees.
As mentioned earlier, professionals want more variety in their workplace choices. That’s why the hybrid model has become increasingly popular in recent months.
However, this can mean an array of things.
For instance, Microsoft recently announced that employees will be able to work flexibly 50% of the time.
But other companies have put out more specific policies that require employees to come into the office on particular days throughout the week.
Because there are so many ways to pivot to a hybrid work model, it’s important to ensure your company:
- Delivers proper hybrid training
- Invests in the necessary software and technology
- Provides collaborative areas and meeting spaces
- Builds scheduling policies
- Offers affordable alternative workspace solutions
When it comes to offering a physical workplace, companies will likely turn to new arrangements that ensure the safety and health of workers, as well as providing them with a workspace closer to their homes.
This is why demand for coworking and flexible office space has grown in recent months.
In fact, the Instant Group expects a flexible workspace supply growth of over 21% this year due to increased demand.
And it makes sense why.
Instead of rearranging or renovating their own office space, companies can easily sign a lease with a flexible office that comes with every basic office amenity a worker could need, and more.
Organizations are turning to these spaces for a few reasons, but mainly because flexible offices are:
- Fully-outfitted with furniture, connectivity, and other technologies
- Offered on flexible, short-term leases
- Providing an alternative office in the suburbs closer to where employees live
- Perfect for in-person brainstorming and collaboration sessions
- Helping businesses cut costs by allowing them to offload some of their real estate
- Giving employees access to a community, as working remotely can sometimes be isolating
Using a flexible office makes it simple for companies to ensure that their employees have a place to work out of, without dealing with the daily managerial needs and costs.
For example, Alliance offers professionals with access to fully-equipped meeting rooms all across the world. Companies can easily rent out one of our meeting rooms so employees can host clients or presentations in a professional setting.
Another way the pandemic has shifted workplace trends is the increased focus on creating an employee-first experience.
The importance of supporting employees, especially following a period of uncertainty, has never been more vital.
Employees themselves are realizing that they no longer have to push through work policies that do not nurture their wellbeing, and in some cases are looking for new jobs to receive better support.
In short, employees are finally having a say — and employers would be wise to listen.
As mentioned above, workers are no longer afraid to stand up for what they need from their employer. Without the support of the company, many have stated they are not afraid to walk away and find a new job.
By investing into arrangements and resources that benefit the wellbeing of staffers, the outcome is a company that is well-oiled, productive, creative, and attractive to prospective talent.
Not only is this good for business, but it creates a company culture that is empathetic and connected, which is what all businesses should strive to be.
On the flip side, if companies continue with their antiquated pre-pandemic policies, they risk hurting their own path forward, losing their best employees, and creating a reputation of invalidating workers’ needs.
So rather than trying to slip back into the old ways of operating, employers should listen to their workers through feedback surveys in order to gain a deep understanding of what they want from their workplace.
After all, employees know what methods work best from them, especially after a year of having to self-manage their work habits and schedules.
In the midst of the pandemic, it was hard to see what the world would look like on the other side.
While moving to remote working policies for the first time injected a lot of promise for the future, workers still noted that there was a sense of isolation with this arrangement.
And many wondered whether they could have the best of both worlds.
It seems simple — a workplace that provides the flexibility of remote working, while also having a safe, healthy office to come into for a sense of camaraderie.
However, in the middle of both the Covid crisis and the ongoing mental health crisis that coincided with the pandemic, the future seemed grim.
Luckily, as science takes the reins in helping parts of the world emerge from this society-altering era, the fog has lifted and the world can see that the challenges may have led to more opportunities.
These statistics prove so.
In reviewing this workplace data, we now know that the pandemic has helped accelerate necessary societal changes.
In short, it means workers receive more choice and support.
Employees get to have a bigger say in their workplace arrangements and scheduling, while simultaneously gaining more support for their wellbeing.
This support will come in the form of better tools for hybrid working, access to health-related resources, a safe work environment to come into, and being part of a company culture that is nurturing.
These new workplace trends go beyond impacting workers themselves.
Companies are also altering their operational style and how they approach their managerial strategies.
While some may have been stubborn about changing, research has supported that the past year has actually benefited the bottom line.
Organizations now have an understanding of how flexibility is mutually beneficial both in wellbeing and productivity.
By listening to the needs of their employees, companies are able to retain their top talent, alleviate their anxieties about returning to the workplace, and inevitably achieve their goals.
The new workplace trends that are emerging from the pandemic all point in one direction: a win-win for both employees and employers.
- What was work like during the global pandemic?
- Working during the pandemic largely involved operating from home offices with a distributed workforce. This meant many workers experienced working from home for the first time, and communicating with their team members and managers through virtual communication software like Zoom.
- How did Covid affect work, business, remote work, and perceptions about work?
- The pandemic caused the workforce as a whole to realize that they can work from virtually anywhere with the right tools and resources. Even more, employees and employers learned the value of supporting wellbeing and how it impacts workplace productivity.
- What are some key workplace trends now and how are they changing?
- Some of the key trends of the workplace today include the adoption of hybrid working, which merges both in-office and remote working. Additionally, companies are looking into offloading some of their real estate footprint by incorporating flexible offices to accommodate workers who want to work closer to their homes and still enjoy flexibility in their work schedule.
- How will work change in the future?
- In the future, the workplace will become increasingly more flexible, with employees having more of a choice in their work arrangements. This also means that technology will play a pivotal role in how businesses operate, from how we collaborate with colleagues to how we book meeting spaces.
- Will Covid create permanent changes to how we work?
- Yes. The pandemic has caused a cultural reset, where workers realize their worth and companies understand that they need to focus better on supporting the employee experience if they want to retain top talent.
- Will the future of work be better or worse due to the pandemic?
- The future of work is a promising place. Not only is it more beneficial for the bottom line and productivity of companies, but it also emphasizes the importance of creating a company culture that is supportive and communicative.
- What do workplace trends tell us about post-pandemic work?
- The main lesson that workplace trends have taught us about post-pandemic work is that the workplace does not have to be a singular fixed location. Instead, it can be any environment where employees are most productive.