A few weeks ago during our Flex Summit 2021, I had the privilege of announcing the results from our latest global Flex Survey around flexible work trends. While we anticipated some of the findings based on what we’d been hearing from colleagues and industry leaders, others surprised us and shifted how we think about the future of work.
Our survey polled more than 8,800 global frontline employees, office workers, and business leaders across multiple industries to uncover the key trends and insights into the evolution of flexible working in the wake of the pandemic. The data exposed conflicting attitudes toward flexible work arrangements, including why “rigid flexibility” strategies will actually deter workforce productivity across industries and demographics, among others.
I can’t express enough how critical it is for companies to communicate with their employees and hear directly from them how they want to keep working post pandemic. Our survey is a starting point for business leaders to help shape and inform their strategy for the future of flexible work in their organizations.
Breaking Down the Findings
1. It takes trust for flexible work to thrive. Trust has remained top of mind for employees and employers throughout the pandemic and companies are continuing to find ways to instill trust and embed it into their company culture. Interestingly enough, 63% (almost two-thirds) of respondents say they are more trusting of remote work since the pandemic.
The data also unveiled trust gaps between frontline workers, office workers, and leadership teams when looking at how trustworthy management is of their remote and hybrid workforce. Seventy percent of senior leaders reported they are trustworthy of employees, while only 42% of frontline workers and 62% of office workers felt that way, revealing management teams still have work to do to earn the trust of their entire workforce and need to boost communication strategies to help get them there. It could be a simple change of calling your “return to work” plan an “office reopening” plan instead, so as to not undermine the work employees have done for the past year to help close the trust gap.
2. The survey revealed that 75% of workers believe a flexible remote work policy is an essential part of an organization's strategy going forward, rather than an extra benefit. Meaning, business leaders should be focused on the need for a flexible work model when strategizing return to office plans to continuously meet the needs of their employees. Companies want to stay competitive, and since 65% of respondents would consider changing jobs for greater long-term flexibility, it’s clear flexible policies need to become part of a company's DNA if they want to attract, win, and retain talent going forward.
However, as offices across the country begin to re-open, we’re still seeing many companies make the same mistake over and over: mandating their employees to be in the office a certain number of days or specific days each week, taking away employees' power to build out a new schedule for the post-COVID chapter that best fits both their personal and professional lives.
3. Additionally, one of the most shocking results, to me, was around how employees regarded their productivity and engagement while working remotely. Eighty-six percent of survey respondents mentioned feeling as or more productive than they did before the pandemic, proving that even as employees balanced their families, remote learning, and different work environments, they were still able to excel and perform their best. And surprisingly, 75% of global respondents reported currently feeling engaged in their work. These results speak to how much is on the line for companies as they plan hybrid remote-office work models. Get it wrong and your employees, who feel that they have been both productive and engaged while 100% remote, will leave you for a company that empowers employees to help design their flexible work arrangement.
Other key insights from the report include:
- Frontline workers perceive flexible work differently than office workers. Forty-two percent of frontline workers believe management is trustworthy of remote work, compared to 62% of office workers. Seventy-eight percent of frontline workers also report that their organization requires them to be in their current working location versus only 60% of office workers.
- Companies must reshape their culture of video meetings to drive engagement. In every industry, every job category, and every region, fewer than 10% of workers consider seeing someone’s face the most critical part of an effective meeting. This was shocking to us, especially as we’ve made everything a video meeting in the last year. As we think about productivity moving forward, leadership should reconsider pandemic-adopted norms as they embrace long-term hybrid work models. In fact, 59% of respondents say they would like to spend less than two hours a day in video meetings.
- Companies must establish a structure, or skeleton, for the work day to prevent burnout. Only 66% of respondents say they are taking a break every day. In addition, a quarter of respondents report that they find themselves working longer hours since they started working remotely.
As business leaders continue to learn and shift their hybrid work strategies and figure out how to improve collaboration & communication in the workplace of the future, they need to remember that employees want a plan that works for them— one that will allow the most flexibility and ease.