A growing body of research from BCG, Gallup and others indicates a large majority of the workers forced to abandon their offices by the viral pandemic are content working from home. In fact, many want to continue doing so after the Covid-19 threat subsides.
Interestingly, parallel research indicates most employers seem satisfied with the new working arrangements. If some employees want to work from home part of the time after their offices reopen, most employers (perhaps as many as 80%, according to preliminary data compiled by my BCG colleagues) seem okay with that.
In short, Covid-19 seems to have solidified—and added a new twist to—the “flexwork” trend I described in the past. Now, instead of having either-or choices, working either at home or at the office, many employees are expressing a preference for splitting their time between the two, perhaps spending three days per week in the office and two working remotely (the 3+2 option I hear cited most frequently), four days in the office and one at home or perhaps three weeks in the office and a week each month working from home.
To be honest, we don’t know what the new norm will look like—whether it will be 3+2 or some other alternative. It likely will vary by situation and industry. What we do know is that for millions of white-collar professionals, work won’t be the same as it was before Covid-19.
The significance of this—for employees, employers, and the millions of businesses that cater to commuters and office workers (such as gas stations, transit systems, sandwich shops, commercial office builders, realtors, office cleaners and suppliers)—remains to be seen. Working remotely is not an option for many critical jobs. Moreover, enthusiasm for the hybrid workplace may wane. Only time will tell.
A just released BCG survey of some 12,000 U.S., German and Indian employees whose jobs can be done remotely, virtually anywhere there’s a high-speed internet connection, found that 60% overall—some 70% in the United States—would like to continue working from home, at least some of the time, after Covid. Interestingly, most of the managers surveyed indicated they’re open to such arrangements for their teams as well.
Similar results were found by BCG researchers in Australia. Their online “workforce sentiment survey,” released June 23, found that “employees who can work remotely want to keep doing so, but not every day, confirming that the office still has a role—albeit a changing one.” The survey, which drew more than 1,000 responses, also confirmed that employees working remotely “believe their productivity has increased.”
Employers seem to be okay with such arrangements as well. A BCG survey in France, conducted jointly with ANDRH, the National Association of Human Resources Directors, found that 85% of the 306 HR respondents “consider the long-lasting development of remote working in their company desirable.” Two-thirds of the respondents said they expect productivity gains from the advancement of remote work.
Others see cost savings. According to Global Workplace Analytics, six out of 10 employers believe increased teleworking likely will reduce such costs as rent and utilities, taxes, cleaning services and even food.
We have a great exciting opportunity to reimagine work around the new remote reality, which is clearly here to stay. But it won’t be as easy as it sounds. All sorts of complex details will have to be worked out; this will be tricky. For example: Will the change be company-wide or will it vary from department to department—and who decides? Does every employee have to work a split schedule? Can the terms be negotiated on an individual basis?
And that’s not all. Among the many other factors that will have to be taken into consideration are sustainability, social connection, mental and physical well-being, the ability of employers to reliably—and in a timely manner—deploy talent where it’s needed most, and creating the infrastructure and processes that will enable and encourage collaboration using the new digital tools.
Employees may also get the feeling over time that working remotely is affecting their advancement opportunities. Out of sight, out of mind; need I say more? How do you make sure that doesn’t happen?
As with most things in life, even changes that most people see as beneficial come with costs and complexity. High-performing organizations will be those that can figure this out—fast.
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