If we told you three years ago that in a short time most of the U.S. workforce would be working from their homes, would you have believed us?
Of course not! No one would have.
But more than two years later and a sizeable portion of us are still working a hybrid schedule or remotely. It’s likely many employers will never go back to the office full time because there are too many benefits for employers (lower overhead costs) and employees (flexibility and greater work/life balance).
But all of this not knowing what’s going to happen next has created instability in the workforce, as has the Great Resignation. So, what are the next steps in this new hybrid world of ours?
To find out the best way to move forward in this new world, Jabra, a manufacturer of audio, video, and collaboration solutions, surveyed 2,800 workers in six key countries (United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan and India) between December 2021 and February 2022. All respondents were asked to answer the same three questions.
How much autonomy should employees have?
Why is this important? Giving employees autonomy makes them feel empowered to do the job in a way that is most effective for them.
Not surprising, people who have full autonomy on where and when to work are happier employees. This autonomy impacts their well-being, happiness and productivity levels. Unfortunately, only one in four U.S. respondents said they have this type of autonomy today, according to Jabra’s 2022 edition of the Hybrid Ways of Working Global Report.
In addition, 58% of U.S. employees prefer a hybrid work situation, but only 38% are doing so.
So, what can employers do to keep employees happy, while at the same time operate a profitable business?
Studies have shown most employees excel at their jobs no matter where they are physically. So, while some large companies are making their employees return to the office, many employees want the ability to create their own work schedule as far as where and when they work. In fact, the survey showed 44% of U.S. employees who have full autonomy are working a hybrid schedule.
Better work experience
And here’s an important point from the study: Employees who have total control over where and when they work “unanimously report a higher work experience score” (85% in the U.S.) than their medium and low autonomy counterparts (75% and 69% in the U.S., respectively). This is especially true in the categories of:
- sense of belonging
- trust in leaders
- work/life balance, and
- mental well-being.
This is important because when potential candidates are checking out future employers on a site like Glassdoor, they’ll see they get higher marks in these categories than other potential employers who don’t offer full autonomy.
Plus, people entering the workforce are typically younger and most of them look for remote or hybrid work environment.
Bottom line, autonomy is essential for employers looking to improve employee satisfaction and engagement, and key to their success.
What characterizes our emotional connection to our workspaces?
Before the pandemic, workers probably didn’t think much about their physical workspace other than was it ergonomically correct. But as far as an emotional connection, there wasn’t much of one except for possession – this is my desk where I work.
But one thing uncovered during the pandemic is that employees’ personal workspace gave them a feeling of belonging. And while most just made do with a temporary space at home, the longer the pandemic went on, the more people missed that feeling of belonging. So, they reconfigured their home workspace to have a dedicated space that was theirs.
Sense of belonging
Now that companies are bringing employees back to the office, employers must remember a desk is more than just a physical place where employees plug their computers in. Even if employees still work part-time from home, they still have a desire to have a dedicated “personal” space in the office.
Thirty-eight percent of U.S. workers said, “they’d feel less loyalty and commitment to their company if they didn’t have a regular, permanent workspace.” And 75% of U.S. workers admitted to being creatures of habit, saying even if they didn’t have an assigned workspace, they’d try to sit in the same spot every time they were in the office.
While it makes sense not to have a desk for every employee if they aren’t all going to be there at the same time, the emotional attachment of losing their dedicated space can far outweigh logistical concerns. People like to have their personal things at their desk – especially with COVID-19 and other people touching their stuff. Plus, when people have pictures and personal trinkets at their desk that remind them of things, it makes them happier. And we all know that happier employees are more productive!
How can we use technology to rewire our relationships?
Moving forward, one key will be to change our work mindset to a virtual-first one. Unified communications platforms, like Teams and Zoom, are the new standard for connecting with co-workers, clients, customers, vendors, etc. Eighty-nine percent of U.S. meetings are now virtual or hybrid. Only 11% happen in person. Now, employers must ensure that employees have what they need technology wise to collaborate virtually. And that the technology gives them a sense of belonging in and outside the office.
Another thing for employers to keep in mind: They’re now dealing with a generation of hybrid native employees. Yes, these employees started working during the pandemic and don’t know any different. Gen Z considers their workplace wherever they have their laptop and get a strong internet connection.
The study found that as more Gen Zs move into the workplace, employers must understand the differences between them, Millennials and Gen Xers as far as location preference, to attract the best talent, and make sure they thrive and connect with their co-workers.
Part of doing that is by providing the technology and support employees need to maintain productivity. This is one way of making sure multigenerational workforces connect and create relationships with each other.
One thing to watch for is people being left out of meetings. Thirty-seven percent of employees globally say they feel left out of conversations in hybrid meetings. It’s important to find ways to make sure that all employees connect inclusively and equitably in virtual and hybrid environments. Being able to communicate in a virtual setting will be essential in making sure employees can maintain a sense of confidence and purpose in the hybrid working future.