The future of remote work: what employees want

Written by
RMI Team (F)

Employees have been through tough times recently. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to economic, health, and social devastation. However, it has also created an unprecedented opportunity: to run the world’s biggest-ever workplace experiment.

Since the crisis unfolded, numerous studies have been conducted on professionals in a variety of roles all over the world. The findings from these studies have shed light on the changes to employee expectations that the pandemic has brought about. The challenge of remote work has illuminated both the negatives and the positives of the situation and made employees realise what they want to retain in a post-COVID world.

HR and business leaders need to be across the shift in expectations so they can lead engaged and productive teams. Here is the roundup of the top priorities for employees and what HR leaders can do to ensure their organisations are optimised for the ‘new-normal’:

Flexibility can stay 

Increased  workplace flexibility has been a major silver lining to come out of COVID for many employees. A study by international market research firm Clutch, found that the top advantages of working from home are a lack of commute (47 percent of respondents) and a more flexible schedule (43 percent).

In the UK, a nationwide survey conducted by charity Working Families shows more than 90 percent of employees want their workplace to retain flexible working practices post-lockdown. An analysis of survey results showed that respondents want to see three major shifts in flexible working for the future: More autonomy to flex their hours; more flexibility over where their remote work; and a cultural shift in attitudes to flexible working.

Time for mental and physical wellbeing

For a long time, physical health has been recognized as a driver of productivity, reducing absenteeism and creating a more focused, and higher-performing remote workforce. A recent BCG study also found a strong correlation between mental and physical health and productivity: employees who have experienced better health during the pandemic than before it, were twice as likely to have maintained or improved their productivity than those with worse health.

For many, the lack of a commute has meant more time for exercise, which has been a widely reported silver lining of the lockdown. Obviously, this has had a positive effect on both physical and mental health. The anecdotal evidence and findings of the BCG study highlight the importance of building time for sleep, exercise, and nutrition into new work routines.

Social connectivity despite social distance

Maintaining a sense of social connection has been one of the biggest challenges to come out of the pandemic. A recent report by Harvard Business Review found that since the pandemic, 75 percent of employees say they feel more socially isolated. According to a recent BCG paper, employees who report high levels of social connectivity with their colleagues are two to three times more likely to have maintained or improved their productivity on collaborative tasks than those who are dissatisfied with their connections.

While commonly used technology has alleviated feelings of isolation to some extent, ensuring employees feel connected in a remote work environment often comes down to careful policy and good management by HR and business leaders. Creating a space where employees are encouraged to be both personal and professional – whether that be through Slack, Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams – is crucial to encouraging social connectivity and should be continued post-pandemic.

A great and authentic culture

It will come as no surprise that employees want to work for companies that have a great culture. How a ‘great culture’ is defined has changed somewhat since the pandemic. Speaking at the upcoming Singapore HR Tech Summit, Jeanne Achille, Devon Group CEO has examined how authentic and transparent communications motivate workers and create an authentic culture. “Historically, there’s significant focus on building high-performing cultures; however, many companies have failed to put employee communications at the core.”

Culture and communications go hand-in-hand and, given the impact of COVID, most workforces will have to do remote working, which makes a disciplined approach to employee communications even more important. “Like building a great culture, leaving it to chance isn’t an option. By failing to engage employees frequently and meaningfully a company risks impacting productivity, customer satisfaction, and its long-term economic viability.”

The right remote work setup

With remote work to outlast COVID, employees need their companies to support them with effective work setups. This is mainly about technology tools, but also extends to monitors, lighting, desks and chairs. When lockdowns began, many workers found themselves in makeshift workstations, hunched over laptops at kitchen tables. To combat this, tech giants like Facebook offered employees a US$1,000 allowance for work from home purposes, while Google gave employees a similar allowance to expense necessary computer equipment and office furniture.

But it’s not just about workstations. According to a new BCG article, What 12,000 Employees Have to Say About the Future of Remote Work, employees who are satisfied with their technology tools are about twice as likely to have maintained or improved their productivity on collaborative tasks as those not satisfied with their tools. An organisation that ensures employees have access to and training in the right technology is critical to a motivated and productive workforce.

In summary, COVID-19 has created a seismic shift in the way we work, and everyone must adapt to the ‘new normal’. HR and business leaders need to listen to what employees want; a happy and engaged worker is a productive worker, and what businesses need now more than ever, is increased productivity and therefore profitability.