Over the past 15 months, organizations have learned that remote work — and the flexibility that comes with it — has become a fundamental part of the employee experience.
Flexibility is now one of the top factors that determines job satisfaction — second only to salary, according to a new study by the Future Forum, a consortium backed by Slack, conducted on the Qualtrics platform. Nearly all (93%) knowledge workers want a flexible schedule, while 76% want flexibility in where they work. And employers looking to attract and retain talent should know that 21% of knowledge workers are likely to switch companies in the next year, while more than half (56%) are open to looking for a new position.
The Future Forum Pulse asked more than 10,000 employees globally how their expectations at work have changed. As companies pivot their employee engagement strategies based on lessons they’ve learned during the pandemic, they’ll need to listen to both employees’ and candidates’ shifting priorities and take action to meet those individual needs.
“The past year shifted everyone’s expectations: People don’t want to go back to pre-pandemic norms of office life, but they are also eager to turn the page on the all-remote experiment that was forced upon them for the past 15 months. Companies who want to attract and retain top talent must look forward to an entirely new way of working: a flexible model that fundamentally reimagines not just where but also when and how people work.”
- Brian Elliott, Future Forum Executive Leader
The new employee experience will be a blend of flexibility and structure
Working remotely meant employees could work from anywhere, and that flexibility had a meaningful impact on employees’:
- Ability to manage stress (58% higher for those working remotely)
- Work-life balance (45% higher)
- Overall satisfaction at work (30% higher)
But location flexibility wasn’t what had the greatest influence on employee experience and wellbeing. Working from home meant employees also had meaningful control over the hours they’d work, and schedule flexibility significantly improved employees’ productivity and stress levels — with some even reporting better connection to the people and information they needed to get their job done.
However, companies that solely focus on providing employees with flexibility will miss a fundamental aspect of the new employee experience that many have longed for during the pandemic: predictability. Two out of three employees (66%) want a balance between full flexibility and structure, like a set of hours for meetings and collaboration, then flexibility for the rest of the day.
The new employee experience will look different for every worker
The pandemic has been more taxing for some than for others. Many parents lost child care options and were working and parenting simultaneously. The primary responsibility fell on women more than men, and women with kids reported lower work-life balance, ability to manage stress, productivity, access to relevant people and resources at work, focus, sense of belonging, and overall satisfaction than men with kids — and even left the workforce at a higher rate than their male counterparts.
Companies hoping to incorporate lessons learned from the pandemic into a new employee experience will want to listen to the needs of, not just their workforce as a whole, but individuals.
In the Future Forum Pulse, women with kids reported that the No. 1 benefit of a flexible schedule was “being better able to take care of personal or family obligations during the day,” while men rated “better work-life balance” as the main benefit of work flexibility.
Greater flexibility may also improve negative satisfaction trends most often seen among Black employees who consistently have lower satisfaction with their professional relationships, are less likely to believe they are treated fairly at work, and are more likely to believe they need to justify their work to their manager. In fact, 72% of Black employees say they’ll look for a new job in the next year, compared to only 51% of white employees.
This year, many companies have also worked to improve their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, and flexible work may be key in doing so. About two out of three (68%) Black employees want flexible work policies, compared to 56% of white knowledge workers, and Black employees are more likely to say that working remotely is better for their sense of belonging than to say it’s worse.
The digital experience is now a fundamental part of the employee experience
After a year of working from home, employees no longer see the office as the place they get their work done (fewer than 20% say the office is a place for focused work). In fact, 80% now see it mainly as a conduit of collaboration and a place to attend in-person meetings and build camaraderie.
As companies evolve the employee experience, they may want to turn some of the investments they would normally put into the office into the digital infrastructure where their employees are getting work done. According to the Future Forum Pulse, companies that invest in digital infrastructure see:
- Higher productivity (+54%)
- Higher sense of belonging (over 2x)
- Greater ability to manage stress and anxiety (over 5x)
That digital infrastructure can also be a conduit of collaboration and an ersatz office for those who need to coordinate while working remotely. The study found that the frequency with which teams communicate has a significant impact on employee satisfaction, and employees who use digital tools to communicate throughout the day have nearly 3x the sense of belonging and over 2x the ability to manage stress and anxiety than their counterparts who do not use digital tools to communicate.
Julia Anas, Qualtrics’ Chief People Officer, said:
"Right now, every company is undergoing an experience transformation. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. But understanding how people think and feel can help organizations make the right decisions, at the right time, in the right way, to improve the experiences they are delivering. Leaders need to listen to what employees want and need, then take action based on that feedback. That action will create better experiences in the future and will differentiate between good and great companies.”
- Julia Anas, Qualtrics Chief People Officer
The past year has changed the employee experience forever. To truly create a great experience for each individual, employers need to frequently and continuously listen to their employees, understand what they’re saying, take action on that data, then communicate those changes and why they were made. Not only will they win the waging war on talent, but they’ll create a happy, healthy, and productive employee experience for all.
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