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As COVID-19 restrictions ease, the discourse surrounding workplace environments and productivity continues to gather texture. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, approximately four million people quit their job in April 2021—a significant and particularly noteworthy number during a recession.
Many Americans observed the benefits of working from home over the course of the pandemic and, subsequently, learned to redefine how to manage their time, space, and priorities. A recent report from Accenture claims, “the future of work will be characterized by complexity and managing differences.”
Now that some employers are calling their staff back to the office—citing increased productivity and spontaneous collaboration among their reasons—employees are leaving their office jobs in search of work from home opportunities and increased flexibility in the workplace.
Still, the discussion leaves many lingering questions: is productivity less conducive to homes? Are team dynamics compromised in the digital workplace? Are employers going to resort to luring remote workers back into the office by deprioritizing them?
Myth: Workers aren’t productive without being in the office.
Debunk: According to Apollo Technical, working remotely can increase productivity up to 77%.
While many employers suspected working remotely would lead to procrastination and home-life distractions, research has shown that remote workers accomplish more work in less time, as well as more work in the same amount of time. Workers’ performances especially improved with creative tasks and ideation.
This, of course, isn’t a holistic view of the workforce as many essential workers such as physicians and workers in the transportation, child care, and agricultural industries are required to work onsite.
Since individuals have unique time management systems and cognitive abilities, offering different workplace options that cater to their specific needs will get workers motivated about coming into work both online and offsite.
Giving employees the flexibility to manage their personal life and workspace leads to better mental health, less burnout, and, in turn, increased productivity.
Employers and companies that cannot inherently accommodate remote work can still offer benefits that support their employees’ well-being such as increased wages and salaries, free meals, gym time, Lyft subsidies, and paid time off for activism. Whether working onsite or offsite, going the extra mile to make employees feel valued as people is likely to get better results in team productivity.
Myth: Team members struggle to communicate, collaborate, and socialize effectively in a remote setting.
Debunk: The technology, tools, and social networks available online make it easy to sync with the team and communicate as needed.
Existing in the digital space might reduce workplace chats, but it also encourages more deliberate communication and regular check-ins. Forbes reported that daily 30 minute check-ins proved to be valuable in maintaining a sense of community. Adding that, "checking in on how team members are doing, and to stay focused on key priorities so that momentum and performance is maintained.”
Furthermore, workplace communication online has dramatically reduced toxicity in the office environment. Workplace politics, whether harmless water cooler whispers or larger gossip that seemed to travel all the way up the work chain, made the office feel less secure for many.
While it’s not a perfect replacement for in-person relations, transitioning to digital has allowed for a “reset” of sorts on teamwork in the workplace.
If you’re struggling in this department, reach out to your colleagues or team leader to arrange regular check-ins, or even a virtual lunch or coffee hour. Slack recently launched Huddles, a new tool that champions “a digital-first way of working” with voice and video features. This could be a great way to strengthen your virtual communication skills, bring back some of the more spontaneous workplace conversations, and make for effective teamwork.
Myth: Decreasing assignment and project priority for workers who are choosing to stay remote will serve as incentive to return onsite.
Debunk: Excluding teammates leaves them unhappy and less productive, says McKinsey report.
Several corporations and investment banks like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Blackstone Group have remained cautious about work-from-home futures. Many have chosen to delegate high priority and coveted assignments to onsite workers, hoping it would lure the rest of their workforce back to the office. The effect has been discouraging, prohibitive, and less productive, especially for introverted employees who struggled advocating for themselves even before the pandemic.
For companies that need to have a headquarters and do not have the intention to be fully-remote (think Slack and Twitter), embracing remote-first attitudes is a successful way to cater to both remote and onsite workers. Remote-first entails organizational strategies to support and recognize remote workers and working as the default. By creating a more inclusive environment, ensuring that all channels of communication remain accessible to workers, as well as adjusting standards to measure staff performance, these companies are able to adapt to the changing needs of workplace culture.
Regardless of their work environment, if employees feel threatened or devalued, they are unlikely to feel safe or productive in the workplace.
Myth: Remote teams don’t equal diverse and inclusive teams.
Debunk: According to Fast Company, moving to remote and hybrid models dramatically expands the talent pool for diverse groups.
Increased remote work opportunities allow people with primary family care (a significant percentage of whom are women, specifically women of color), a chance to engage in office work while taking care of their children or elders.**
More remote work also means companies can afford to loosen recruiting restrictions that will put an end to location and identity bias. This encourages racial, gender, and neurological diversity while allowing employees to work from a location that suits their needs, cost of living, and lifestyles best.
Research shows that diverse and inclusive teams outperform teams that aren’t. Ethnic and cultural diversity, as well as more women in the workplace, can lead to up to 36% increased profits and progress.
Myth: Remote work is a one-size-fits-all solution for most workers and industries.
Debunk: An Accenture poll shows that 23% of workers in a Future of Work study said they needed a non-traditional space to ideate.
Going remote is not a solution for all, especially those in the healthcare and retail industries, who need to work on site to keep their business functioning. Additionally, a sizable number of workers in corporate settings have stated that they feel that facetime and in-person collaborations with colleagues cannot be replicated online. There are other factors, too: some employees benefit from the routine regulated by going into the office, and have better access to workspace technology like desktops and stable internet that isn’t readily available at home. With the rise of work from home companies and gig economy workers, the post-pandemic workplace continues evolving to better meet employees’ mental health needs.
Whether working remotely, onsite, or in hybrid models, it’s important that each individual feels recognized, committed, and connected to the community. Perhaps, then, the question we should be asking isn’t “where do you prefer to work from?” but rather, “what makes an individual feel safe, healthy, creative, and most productive at their job?” With the right care and attention, workers can be productive anywhere. Over the next few weeks, the Back to Work series will take a look at workplace etiquettes and equal opportunity in the office.
Back to Work is a weekly series that explores the challenging, exciting, and unprecedented time of transitioning back to work through the lens of those involved.
As part of our mission to recognize workplace heroes, SmartGift aims to spotlight how fostering connection, transparency in communication, and workplace appreciation can affect company culture and the bottom line. Over the forthcoming weeks, Back to Work will highlight how managers, employers, and employees continue to be affected by this transition in American work culture.