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The Post-COVID Workplace: Employee Preferences Are Only Part of the Equation

August 31, 2021
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As the economy continues to open up and COVID restrictions are lifted, the American workforce faces yet another adaptation. With many people now adjusted to working from home, businesses and organizations are bringing employees back into the office or introducing a hybrid future that combines working from home with days onsite. A hybrid work schedule seems to be the most common arrangement among organizations of all sizes. Since this is a new concept for most American employers, leadership teams are wrestling with the amount of input to give employees.

Since May 2020, The Harvard Business Review has surveyed over 30,000 American workers.

Findings reveal that 32 percent of employees never want to return to working in the office.

Employees expressing this desire tend to be those with young kids at home, those who live in the suburbs, and those who report a stressful work commute.

On the flip side, 21 percent of respondents say they never want to work remotely again.

These tend to be young, single employees or empty nesters living closer to cities. Since there are such different views as to where and how people want to work, it would only seem natural to let people choose the working arrangement that’s best for them, right? Maybe not.

Those managers inclined to let employees choose their schedules may find that this isn’t the best approach for two reasons:

Cultural Side Effects

First, there’s the challenge of managing a new hybrid team. This working arrangement could lead to an “office in-group” and “home out-group.” During virtual meetings, for example, employees working remotely may see others glancing or whispering without knowing exactly what is going on. This could easily make remote workers feel excluded. Those working from home also know that after the virtual meeting is over there is often an informal follow-up meeting as people chat in the corridor or go grab a cup of coffee together in the break room. Here again, those employees working remotely would miss out on these ad hoc discussions.

Diversity and Career Advancement Consequences

Then there’s the impact this may have on diversity. Current surveys show that younger women with children at home are those most likely to prefer a permanent remote work environment. In fact, the Harvard Business Review research found that 50 percent of young women with children would prefer to work remotely compared to men in the same age group. Some may feel that working remotely makes them more likely to be passed over for important projects or even promotions. Do people see those coming to the office every day as more engaged than those working remotely? This could spell disaster for a corporation and lead to a diversity crisis, not to mention a potential legal issue. If the studies cited above are correct, this could mean that younger men who come into the office to work five days a week will move up more quickly in the corporation compared to the female employees with young children at home who have opted to work remotely.

Managing a Hybrid Solution

To many, it seems that the best solution is for managers to decide which days their team members will work remotely and which days everyone should be working in the office. The COVID-19 pandemic turned conventional ideas about how and where we work upside down. Could a new hybrid work schedule ultimately make employees happier and more productive?

A good management team must take the potential side effects of working from home into consideration as they work together to find a solution that’s best for both their organization’s success and their employees’ personal and professional fulfillment. As with most things, balance is key. While it’s very important to keep employees happy, it’s equally important to ensure that diversity, teamwork, and inclusiveness aren’t sacrificed in the process.

Oswald Companies’ executive leadership team is paying close attention to both our employee-owners’ wishes and our overall belief in the value of in-person energy, client service, and collaboration. As with everything related to the pandemic, Oswald is keeping its ear to the ground by requesting regular employee-owner input around what the post-COVID workplace will look like. Employee-owners’ questions are openly shared and addressed by top management during our monthly virtual town hall meetings so that everyone feels informed and heard. We have also sent brief surveys to keep a finger on the pulse of the ever-changing post-pandemic environment. These survey results and leadership’s eye on upholding our core values (Passion for Excellence, Integrity, Resourcefulness, and Commitment to Community) are reviewed in tandem and used to formulate a workplace plan that is flexible enough to respond to whatever may come next.

View our recent articles, “Overcoming Employee Communication Challenges” and “Effectively Communicating With Employees in a Hybrid Environment.”


For more information, please contact me directly or learn more on our Employee Benefits page.

Margaret Gennero
Associate Client Executive, Benefits
734-418-0884
Email

 

(Sources: hbr.org)

Note: This communication is for informational purposes only. Although every reasonable effort is made to present current and accurate information, Oswald makes no guarantees of any kind and cannot be held liable for any outdated or incorrect information. View our communications policy.