This week’s reading list features a spate of articles that address challenges leaders are facing right now as they balance remote work and the desire to bring people back to the office as well as some speculation on the future of work and trends for the coming year. 

Return to the office? Nope! 

What happens if loyal, hardworking employees refuse to return to the office? According to the consulting firm Korn Ferry, employees at all levels are openly questioning their employers’ plans to reopen offices. 

The article, “Back to Work? No Way!” details some reasons why some employees are solidifying their preference for working from home: 

  • They have school-age children who are learning remotely and require supervision 
  • They value the newfound work-life balance working from home provides 
  • They are concerned for their personal health and safety, or that of an at-risk person within their orbit
  • They find they are more productive at home and have developed a preference for remote work. 

A key challenge for employers, then, is whether they draw a line in the sand and require employees to return to the office, or if they shift to a different model of working permanently. Local government edits, orders, and laws compound the complexity of this decision. 

The future of work, post-Covid 

The pandemic accelerated innumerable changes for businesses and societies around the globe, and some of those changes are becoming prevalent trends. 

A big change business leaders will need to track are the changes in employee expectations of their employers and their experience at work. An article from Gartner entitled “9 Future of Work Trends Post-COVID19” details the expanded role of the employer as a safety net, and calls it one of the top trends as we move through and beyond the pandemic. 

What does this safety net look like? Simple actions employers can take include offering employees choices regarding whether they work from home or the office and flexible hours (i.e. “flextime”) so parents and caregivers can manage their other necessary commitments. More involved safety net options include enhanced time off and sick leave policies, financial assistance, and provision of child care. 

When a return to “normal” is a return to worse performance 

One of the recurring themes of the Covid era has been managers’ concerns about employee productivity. In fact, an expanded collection of employee data – including monitoring computer usage and activities – is another trend identified by Gartner in the previously cited article. 

However, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article, “The Post-Pandemic Rules of Talent Management,” the data tell a different story. 

“Humanyze, a technology firm that specializes in social sensing, mined anonymous company email, chat, and calendar data to find that working without an office has actually extended people’s working time by an average 10–20%, while also reducing work-related stress and negative emotions, increasing confidence and well-being and increasing communication with close collaborators by a staggering 40%.”

Let’s boil that down. Employees are working longer, are more positive and less stressed, and are successfully communicating and collaborating. 

For leaders yearning for a “return to normal,” this is a wake-up call, as “normal” very likely reverses these positive numbers. 

This is where it is important to actually find out what your employees are thinking, and where they stand — rather than guessing or making assumptions. Engagement Multiplier’s “Emerge Stronger” on-demand survey is designed to gather feedback about employees’ experience during the pandemic. For current clients, the Emerge Stronger survey is available to use as a stand-alone, on-demand survey, and can be used to quickly check in on your teams. If you’re new to Engagement Multiplier, we’ve bundled the Emerge Stronger survey module with our Benchmark Assessment – a comprehensive employee survey – and are providing both to you at no charge.