While many employees prefer working remotely over going into the office, employers fear that remote work leads to lost productivity, driving a surge in back-to-the-office mandates.
Since the bulk of tech company employees fall into this category, it’s even more crucial to ensure the right employee model and strategy for continued employee engagement.
An over-focus on where an employee works can be misleading. It’s not the place that drives high performance; it’s the quality of the employee experience. While productivity is essential, optimizing the employee experience wherever your employee works will lead to better outcomes.
Remote and hybrid workstyles are here to stay, and they can be a healthy part of the modern workplace — good for people, productivity, and the planet.
The facts show they already are.
This is particularly challenging for tech companies, because over 70% of knowledge workers prefer remote or hybrid models.
“Productivity paranoia:" The unfounded fear
Most productivity concerns about remote work are not backed by the data. This unfounded fear is so prevalent that it’s become known as “productivity paranoia.”
Studies overwhelmingly show that employees are just as productive, and often more so, in remote work environments. A recent two-year survey by Great Place to Work of more than 800,000 employees found that working remotely boosted employee productivity by 6% on average.
Ironically, productivity gains are often apparent in the work produced, such as increased code written by remote programmers. (Attrition rates also dropped among those remote workers, which is also easy to document.)
Nevertheless, a recent Microsoft/Forrester survey shows that 87% of remote employees report being productive at work, and only 12% of leaders are confident in their teams’ productivity.
A recent global survey by Citrix found that half of 900 business leaders surveyed believe that when employees work "out of sight," they don't work as hard. It results from a strong proximity bias by leaders trained to evaluate employees based on "face time.” Employees see the lack of confidence as a lack of trust, which becomes a problem.
In fact, the most significant challenges associated with remote work are more likely to be management’s inexperience in leading across different models of work, which have grown rapidly in scope and scale. Many leaders need more training and support from their companies to develop meaningful policies for remote workplaces. The right investment in technology and tools is needed to help leaders and employees thrive. In such a rapid workplace migration, leaders' and employees’ needs are changing quickly, and organizations must evolve to address them.
Adding value beyond a return-to-work model
If your company is eager to bring people back to the office, it’s important to consider the whole employee experience. Whether you offer a remote or hybrid model, employees continue to look for connection and meaning in their work.
73% of employees say they need a better reason to return to the office than just back-to-office -mandates. Even from afar, employees want to feel a greater sense of purpose and connections with their peers and the company.
In the competition for top tech talent, the strongest candidates can choose an employer that lets them work where they want to. And companies that mandate onsite work lose out on the wide world of talent beyond their geographic footprint. Many companies, especially startups, need the flexibility to hire skilled developers working remotely in markets beyond expensive tech hubs like Seattle and Silicon Valley.
Increasingly, talented people will choose their employer based on the quality of the experience and meaning they find in their work. The more rigid your in-office requirements, the less flexibility you’ll have to attract and retain the people you need to grow and thrive. The better you flex with remote work as part of the modern workplace, the greater your advantages in hiring and keeping great employees. Studies show that companies with highly engaged workforces also have better financial outcomes. In the end, everyone wins.
Beyond the boundaries of place to become an employer of choice
A human-centered design approach can bring people and digital together in new ways and new environments. It leads to innovations neither humans nor digital can achieve alone. It starts with defining and implementing a modern work mission and strategy, moving on to define workplace policies, norms, and tools that enhance hybrid workstyles.
We apply experience and expertise to provide the missing links in leadership training, technology, and tools, building employee experiences where collaboration and innovation thrive — wherever people work. This work results in tangible, organization-wide benefits, including higher retention, higher efficiency with less time spent on ineffective tasks, and an employee-centric brand that makes your company an employer of choice.
Of course, part of the challenge is that there’s no playbook for these new working models. We see this challenge as an opportunity, and your company can, too. Here’s how.
1- BE INTENTIONAL: THE EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE RESET.
To avoid confusion, leaders must clearly define their new working model strategy (with employee input) upfront. Once this is locked in, there needs to be a plan for how the new model will be rolled out with clear timing and expectations, continually monitoring, and adjusting where needed.
Before returning to the office, employees want to know if there's a good reason for it. What are you asking people to do when you bring them back in, and why? Knowing your intentions and communicating them early and often will go a long way toward gaining employees’ understanding and buy-in.
Bringing people back into the office should be part of the greater focus on the employee experience. This means giving employees choices about where and how they work, working with them to define collaboration and teaming norms, and using technology to help teams measure their wellness and effectiveness at work.
2- GIVE LEADERS WHAT THEY NEED TO LEAD A THRIVING REMOTE/HYBRID WORKFORCE.
Leading a remote work setting takes new learning, policies, and tools. The scale and scope of remote work have grown rapidly, and leadership is often playing catch-up.
We work closely with leadership teams to define what's right for the company and develop solutions in sync with their culture. This means looking beyond the boundaries of onsite mindsets and rethinking remote, onsite, and hybrid experiences to bring out the best in your people.
Leaders should be engaged in developing new policies and have effective ways to communicate and support those policies through change management supported by technology. They need to build contracts with their teams and measure progress on clearly stated goals for modern work, typically including fewer meetings, more effective meetings, and meaningful 1:1 interaction. They need clear, consistent ways to measure impact and act on what they learn.
Leaders need flexibility, too. Team leaders should be free to develop and implement rollouts tailored to their team members’ goals, behaviors, and ways of working within the guidelines of the overall strategy set by senior leadership.
3- BUILD A “WAYS OF WORKING” CONTRACT WITH EACH OTHER.
Creating a “ways of working” contract will set clear expectations, eliminate second-guessing, and make it easier to join forces wherever people work.
The contract should be specific. For example: “We’re going to honor each other’s time zones. We’ll book ahead to set aside two hours every day to do focused work. We will not send messages after 6PM. in the recipient’s time zone. If we do, they are not expected to respond until the next workday.”
Your contract can also set ground rules about when it makes sense for everyone to come into the office — whether by timeframe (two days every other week) or purpose (for strategic goal setting). By anchoring returns to the office in some specific activity, you’ve taken the time to understand each other’s rhythms and agree on the importance of doing certain types of work together in each other's presence.
4- SUPPORT HIGH PERFORMANCE EVERYWHERE WITH AN EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE PLATFORM (EEP).
A well-designed EEP integrates user-friendly technology into every aspect of getting work done and enhancing the employee experience from day one, whether they work onsite or remotely.
Software and tools can facilitate each step in the employee journey to create a personalized experience that inspires and equips each person to do their best work. These include onboarding support, tools that encourage more efficient and effective work, easy ways to ask quick questions, and a social network that let users “turn their chairs" digitally to reach out to a colleague online. In addition, tools that measure impact can help keep employees in touch with their performance and support their career development.
Go forward, not “back,” to the office
The appeal of remote work raises valuable questions about when and why it's worth going into the office. While you improve the remote work experience, it's vital to create onsite environments where people want to come in and accomplish things they could not do remotely.
Gone are the days when a cool office with ping-pong tables and free snacks was a differentiator that would attract talent. What employees are looking for now goes much deeper. The question is, what will attract people to come into the office now? How will you create that experience?
Companies that ignore the challenge miss a huge opportunity to grow, compete, and keep the best people working for them. In a world where talented people seek employers that let them work in the environment they prefer, creating a great employee experience is one of the best investments your company can make.
Before you bring them back
If your company is mandating a return to the office, don’t think of it as “going back” to the way it was pre-pandemic. It’s about “going forward” to a modern workplace that leverages everything we’ve all learned in the last three years about the way people do their best work. It’s about embracing the leadership style and technologies that make it happen.
Wherever your company is in the process, it helps to have the answers to a few key questions:
- What matters most to your employees when it comes to their work environment?
- What do remote workers prefer that might inform your onsite experience?
- Are you being intentional — giving people good reasons to return to the office? Are you thinking about a focus on the employee experience?
- Do your leaders and managers have the relevant training, policies, and technology to support employees in remote and hybrid work environments?
- Have you fixed any previous brokenness around office work such as too many meetings, outdated technology, or rigid policies around work hours? Zero in on what works for you.
- Do you have a strategy to support remote, on-premise, and hybrid experiences?
- Do you have clear policies and norms supporting these diverse working methods?
- Is your workspace ready? Are there enough private spaces for people to make private calls? Are remote workers able to collaborate effectively with onsite staff?
- How will you track and measure success? Recent technological advances make measuring and comparing many aspects of performance easy.