COVID-19 has changed the workplace as we have known it. While the physical space still exists, the overall idea of what a workplace is and what it is for needs to be reimagined. Organizations must deliberately address the changes wrought by the pandemic and the rapid pace of technological investment to enable remote and flexible work. In particular, organizations must take three key actions.
Embrace the hybrid model. The post-pandemic outcome is clear: a hybrid work model in which part of the workforce works outside of the traditional office for part of the time. The more important question: Which portion of the workforce needs to be present in the office, and when, and for what reason?
Employees are craving clarity about what is coming next in terms of work arrangements. It falls on organizational leaders to chart the path for managers and employees. Transparent and frequent communication, with managers playing a key role, can help ensure that the organization moves in unison.
In a recent survey, we found that organizations that articulated more specific policies and approaches for the future workplace have seen employee well-being and productivity rise. More specifically, organizations that have clearly communicated post-COVID-19 work arrangements have seen a two-fold increase to employee-reported feelings of support, a three-fold increase to feelings of inclusion, and an almost five-fold increase to reported feelings of individual productivity. Attempting to force a one-size-fits all solution can have detrimental effects on the workforce, particularly on women, people of lower socio-economic status, and people in less advanced economies.
Reimagine the physical space. The office of the future requires organizations to consider the altered footprint and layout that will emerge from a hybrid work model. Since in-person work will look substantially different, organizations need to make sure that their physical space is in tune with the objectives of the people within it. Pre-pandemic cubicle setups may be a thing of the past, making way for areas of collaboration, innovation, and community-building.
Real-estate footprints of many organizations will also change significantly. Already, we have seen many companies move to new geographies to tap new talent pools. For example, a large technology company recently announced some roles could remain remote indefinitely, allowing them to leverage talent from around the country. Others, such as a large financial company that is planning on having 60 desks per 100 employees, are rethinking their real-estate spend as they move to hybrid working models.
Manage fundamental human needs. The overnight shift to remote work has been one of the most notable real-time social experiments of recent times. It has shown that remote work does not necessarily come at the cost of productivity. In fact, many companies have reported increased productivity. A McKinsey analysis found that more than 20 percent of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as from an office.
However, remote employees complain that it is difficult to feel connected to colleagues and manage work-life boundaries. Some companies are adamant about the value of remote work while also being concerned about its effect on employee well-being. One online retailer, for example, is addressing these concerns and is acquiring over 900,000 square feet of new office space across six U.S. cities. The gradual return of in-person work alongside the newfound importance of virtual workspaces means organizations need to figure out ways to increase connectivity and a sense of belonging, regardless of where employees are.
The relationship between employees and the workplace has changed in ways that require organizations to invest seriously in helping people navigate through their vision for the hybrid workplace and any changes to the physical workspace. Doing so can help employees balance productivity, well-being, and a sense of connection in the evolving future of work.