In late 2018, someone on my team came to me with what I thought at the time was an unusual idea: She wanted to reset her schedule to work two days in the office and three days at home each week. My initial reaction was basically “No way!” I wondered how we would collaborate, what would happen to our culture, and how we would communicate without non-verbal communication! Today, my reaction seems silly, but a lot has changed in the 3 and a half years since.
When all is said and done, my colleague did go to a hybrid schedule (though we didn’t know to call it that.) Of course, as we learned how to be successful in a hybrid environment, it gave us some solid training on what was to come in 2020!
At that time, it turns out that my colleague was part of an exclusive group – just about 5% of American workers worked from home 3 days a week or more in 2019. Fast-forward to April 2020 and 37% of people were working from home. And that increase in people working remotely was not a temporary phenomenon.
Today, as distributed and hybrid teams have become closer to the norm, 90% of remote capable employees prefer some sort of remote work moving forward. And, many say that they would look for another job if they didn’t have options to work remotely. Companies have reacted, with large organizations such as Airbnb, Zillow, Spotify and even Ford announcing new Work From Anywhere (WFA) policies.
Remote work is here to stay, and in the last two years we’ve learned a lot. Many of us have been surprised at how easy the transition has been. A lot has gone right, but there are still some things that have opportunities for improvement.
First, what’s working well?
- Productivity. In what may have initially been a surprise to many, both employees and employers have tracked an increase in productivity since they have started to work remotely. A majority of employees report they were just as productive working from home as they were working from the office. 30% say they are even more productive and engaged working from home. In another survey, 94% of employers said that productivity was the same or higher after the transition to work from home. Looking back, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Not only did many gain quite a bit of time back in their day by eliminating their commutes, but working from home provides comfort and focus that is often difficult to find in an office.
- Employee happiness. As employees become more productive, they also became happier. In fact, the ability to work remotely increases employee happiness by as much as 20%. It makes sense – commuting steps instead of miles, trading in business casual for athleisure, working next to your favorite pet, your own kitchen just steps away – all these things and more highlighted the parts of working from home that brought happiness to many.
- New Ways to Collaborate. For many, the pandemic just brought on a new way of working. We’ve learned to use tools to help us work asynchronously, collaborate using virtual whiteboards like Mural and Miro, and, of course, meet virtually using tools like Zoom or Teams. These tools and more opened up new ways to communicate and collaborate that will change how we work moving forward, no matter where our desks are located.
For all the success of remote work, there are still opportunities to improve the overall experience.
- Family and childcare. While many employees and employers have reported increased productivity, when employees do report lower productivity, they say it is because of difficulties managing their work and home lives. This is a space where employers and employees have a disconnect. 81% of executives say their company has been successful in extending the benefits of childcare, but only 45% of employees agree. This is another case where listening will be key. New needs have emerged in this new era, and it will be important for organizations to listen to their employees and evolve based on the needs they uncover.
- Creative thinking. As many have learned, video conferencing, while convenient and economical for many cases, is not always a substitute for in-person gatherings. A recent study of the pandemic work environment by Microsoft noted that “…the shift to less ‘rich’ communication media may have made it more difficult for workers to convey and process complex information” while another study in Nature found that in-person meetings generate more ideas – and more creative ones – compared to video conferencing. We can’t do it all virtually – there are times that getting together a person is a must to drive the success of a team. Of course, we are big believers in getting together in person here at MacroScope Studios!
- Connection + Culture. In a world of distributed, remote and hybrid teams, organizations must be intentional to drive connection and culture. When we initially took our workstations home in March 2020, it was easier to maintain connection and culture as many of us had spent the previous months and years together in person. However, in this new era, every organization has seen significant turnover, so it is no surprise that 60% of remote workers feel less connected to their colleagues. The key today is to be intentional about building connections and culture – both virtually and in-person.
What has your experience been in this new era of working? What have you seen organizations do right, and what additional opportunities for improvement have you seen?