What Employees are Saying about the Future of Remote Work - McKinsey
As organizations look to the postpandemic future, many are planning a hybrid virtual model that combines remote work with time in the office. This sensible decision follows solid productivity increases during the pandemic. But while productivity may have gone up, many employees report feeling anxious and burned out.
Unless leaders address the sources of employee anxiety, pandemic-style productivity gains may prove unsustainable in the future. As organizational leaders chart the path toward the postpandemic world, they need to communicate more frequently with their employees—even if their plans have yet to solidify fully. Organizations that have articulated more specific policies and approaches for the future workplace have seen employee well-being and productivity rise.
Feeling included. Even high-level communication about post-COVID-19 working arrangements boosts employee well-being and productivity. And organizations that convey more detailed, remote-relevant policies and approaches see greater increases. Employees who feel included in more detailed communication are nearly five times more likely to report increased productivity. Because communicating about the future can drive performance outcomes today, leaders should consider increasing the frequency of their employee updates—both to share what’s already decided and to communicate what is still uncertain.
Communication breakdown. Valuable as a detailed vision for postpandemic work might be to employees, 40 percent of them say they’ve yet to hear about any vision from their organizations, and another 28 percent say that what they’ve heard remains vague.
Anxiety at work. At organizations that are communicating vaguely, or not at all, about the future of postpandemic work, nearly half of employees say it’s causing them concern or anxiety. Anxiety is known to decrease work performance, reduce job satisfaction, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues, among other ills. For the global economy, the loss of productivity because of poor mental health—including anxiety—might be as high as $1 trillion per year.
Burning out. The lack of clear communication about the future of postpandemic work also contributes to employee burnout. Nearly half of employees surveyed say they’re feeling some symptoms of being burned out at work. That may be an underestimate, since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests, and the most burned-out individuals may have already left the workforce—as have many women, who’ve been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Share more. Burnout is especially pronounced for people feeling anxious due to a lack of organizational communication. These employees were almost three times more likely to report feeling burned out. The obvious recommendation for organizational leaders: share more with employees, even if you’re uncertain about the future, to help improve employee well-being now.
Employees want flexibility. So how do organizations help their anxious and burned-out employees? One way is to find out what employees want for the future. More than half of employees told us they would like their organizations to adopt more flexible hybrid virtual-working models, in which employees are sometimes on-premises and sometimes working remotely. A hybrid model can help organizations make the most of talent wherever it resides, lower costs, and strengthen organizational performance.
Talent at risk. In fact, more than a quarter of those surveyed reported that they would consider switching employers if their organization returned to fully on-site work. Of course, even employees who say they might depart could ultimately decide to remain, depending on the policies companies end up adopting, the availability of jobs at the same or better rates of pay, and the role of automation in shifting the tasks people do.
Staying home. In describing the hybrid model of the future, more than half of government and corporate workers report that they would like to work from home at least three days a week once the pandemic is over. Across geographies, US employees are the most interested in having access to remote work, with nearly a third saying they would like to work remotely full time.
What parents say. Employees with young children are the most likely to prefer flexible work locations, with only 8 percent suggesting they would like to see a fully on-site model in the future. Employees without children under 18 are nearly three times as likely to prefer on-site work, but the majority still prefer more flexible models.
Hopes and fears. Across the board, employees are eager to see organizations put a greater emphasis on flexibility, competitive compensation, and well-being once the pandemic is over—and conversely, they’re concerned that future work, regardless of whether it is on-site or remote, will negatively affect these needs. Employees also fear that on-site work will lead to a greater chance of getting sick and that remote work will reduce community and collaboration between colleagues.
Policy matters. Which working arrangements and related policies do employees say will lead to the highest levels of well-being, social cohesion, and productivity? More than a third of respondents ranked clear hours and expectations for collaboration in their top five policies; several other collaboration policies, including technologies that enable on-site employees to dial-in to remote meetings and guidelines for documentation, also received significant support. Collaboration tools, and training for those tools, also rate highly for employees, as does reimbursement for remote-work office setups. Microconnectivity policies, meanwhile—from small team events to a listening and response strategy—were top policies for more than a quarter of all respondents.
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