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Gleb Tsipursky

Management

What Quality Professionals Should Know When Employees Return to the Office

A combination of mainly hybrid and some remote work is our future

Published: Thursday, September 2, 2021 - 12:03

Recent surveys show, and many managers are learning, that their employees are often not interested in working from the office full time.

It’s easy to assume we know what they want due to a bias known as the false consensus effect, which causes us to perceive others whom we feel to be in our team as sharing our beliefs. As the following surveys show, and what many managers are learning, is that their employees are often not interested in working from the office full time.

Survey says…

To address the false consensus effect, we need to turn to objective data that don’t rely on our gut feelings and assumptions. A good way to do so is to examine the insights gleaned from several in-depth surveys of employees on post-pandemic remote work that has been published recently.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Here are the key conclusions of a meta-analysis comparing all these studies:
1. More than two-thirds of all employees who worked remotely in the pandemic want and expect to work from home half the time or more permanently, while more than one-fifth want to work remotely full time.
2. More than two-fifths would leave their current job if they didn’t have the option of remote work of two to three days per week.
3. More than one-quarter plan to leave their job after the pandemic, especially those who rate their company cultures as “C” or lower.
4. More than two-fifths of all employees, especially younger ones, would feel concern over career progress if they worked from home while other employees like them did not.
5. Most employees see telework and the flexibility it provides as a key benefit and are willing to sacrifice substantial earnings for it.
6. Employees are significantly more productive on average when working from home.
7. More than three-quarters of all employees will feel happier and more engaged, be willing to go the extra mile, feel less stressed, and have more work-life balance with permanent opportunity for two to three days of telework.
8. More than half of all employees feel overworked and burned out, and more than three-quarters experience “Zoom fatigue” and want fewer meetings.
9. Employees need funding for home offices and equipment, but no more than 25 percent of companies provided such funding so far.
10. More than three-fifths of all employees report poor virtual communication and collaboration as their biggest challenge with remote work, and many want more training in these areas.

What does other research say?

Other research backs up this information. Consider a survey comparing productivity of in-person vs. remote workers during the first six months of stay-at-home orders, March 2020 through August 2020, to the same March-through-August period in 2019. Employees showed a more than 5-percent increase in productivity during this period.

Another study surveying 800 employers reported that 94 percent found that remote workers showed higher or equal productivity than before the pandemic. Nonsurvey research similarly shows significant productivity gains for remote workers during the pandemic.

Some might feel worried that these productivity gains are limited to the context of the pandemic. Fortunately, research shows that after a forced period of work from home, if workers are given the option to keep working from home, those who choose to do so experience even greater productivity gains than during the initial forced period.

An important academic paper from the University of Chicago provides further evidence of why working at home will stick. First, the researchers found that working at home proved a much more positive experience, for employers and employees alike, than anticipated. That led employers to report a willingness to continue work-from-home after the pandemic.

Second, an average worker spent more than 14 hours and $600 to support their work-from home. In turn, companies made large-scale investments in back-end IT facilitating remote work. Some paid for home office and equipment for employees. Furthermore, remote-work technology has improved during this time. Therefore, both workers and companies will be more invested in telework after the pandemic.

Third, stigma around telework has greatly decreased. Such normalization of work from home makes it a much more viable choice for employees.

The paper shows that employees perceive telework as an important perk. On average, they value it as much as 8 percent of their salary. The authors also find that most employers plan to move to a hybrid model after the pandemic, having employees come in about half the time. Given the higher productivity that results from remote work which the paper’s authors find, they conclude that the post-pandemic economy will see about a 6-percent productivity boost.

Conclusion

Don’t assume that you know what your employees want when they return to the office. Cognitive biases such as the false consensus effect misleads us into thinking others in our group share our beliefs when it is often not the case. Surveys and research have shown that new habits, norms, and values picked up during the pandemic will continue to have a significant impact on the post-Covid workplace. A combination of mainly hybrid and some remote work is our future. Defend yourself from mental blindspots so you can make the best strategic decisions after the pandemic.

References
1. Harvard Business School Online. “HBS Online Survey Shows Most Professionals Have Excelled While Working from Home.” March 25, 2021.
2. Maurer, Roy. “SHRM: Half of Workers Wish to Remain Remote Permanently.” Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), March 3, 2021.
3. Prudential. “Pulse of the American Worker Survey: Is This Working?”
4. Celano, Kristin. “45 Key WFA & Remote Work Statistics for 2021.” OWL Labs, March 19, 2021.
5. Pelta, Rachel. “FlexJobs Survey Finds Employees Want Remote Work Post-Pandemic.” FlexJobs.
6. Smith, Jillian. “Envoy survey finds employees want companies to embrace hybrid work and mandate COVID vaccines.” Envoy, March 16, 2021.
7. Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index. “The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready?” Microsoft, 2021.
8. Maria Barrero, Jose; Bloom, Nicholas; J. Davis, Steven. “Why Working From Home Will Stick.” Becker Friedman Institute, April 22, 2021.

Discuss

About The Author

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

Gleb Tsipursky

Gleb Tsipursky is on a mission to protect quality leaders from dangerous judgment errors known as cognitive biases by developing the most effective decision-making strategies. A best-selling author, he wrote Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (2019). His expertise comes from 20+ years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training as the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts, and over 15 years in academia as a behavioral economist and cognitive neuroscientist. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, Twitter@gleb_tsipursky, Instagram@dr_gleb_tsipursky, LinkedIn, and register for his Wise Decision Maker Course.