Measuring what counts: a new age of hybrid work

In 2018, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental economic group of 37 member countries that aims to stimulate economic progress, published a report in which it argued that using GDP as the conventional yardstick of economic performance is inadequate and misleading. The OECD claimed that an over-reliance on this measure was the reason that few policy makers were able to pre-empt the 2008 global financial crisis. The report argued that although GDP is a powerful indicator of economic performance, it cannot capture other crucial factors such as sustainable growth and quality of life; hence, any post-coronavirus bounce in GDP is difficult to fully evaluate without acknowledging the pandemic’s effects on things like public health, employment, wages and living standards.

Historic yardsticks of real estate performance—cost, utilisation, occupancy, square footage—cannot tell the whole story and are becoming increasingly outmoded as the pace of change continues to accelerate. These are lessons that organisations must take on board when it comes to their people and the workplaces they inhabit, both in offices and at home.

COVID-19 has entrenched a hybrid approach to work and workplace. In a recent Leesman poll of global industry decision makers, 84% of respondents stated that their organisation’s approach to remote work had changed as a result of the pandemic, and 85% have made the decision to adopt a hybrid working model (with 28% of these respondents making using of third spaces).

Organisations the world over are recognising that the adoption of a hybrid strategy will not only impact their dependence on real estate but also their workplace’s role in talent recruitment and retention.

Measuring employee experience in the office and at home gives organisations a clear indication of performance and enables them to develop a real estate strategy aligned with the evolving needs and expectations of their employees. Much like the OECD’s call for a new agenda beyond just GDP, business leaders too must accept that there are multiple elements of the employee experience they have to monitor to know the changing pulse of their organisation in today’s world.

Many organisations have been worried about what their employees are doing at home, fuelled by the fact that line-of-sight management disappeared overnight in 2020. While this change helps to explain the growing investment in reporting and monitoring tools, spending longer online does not equate to productivity, and there remains no clear and transferable business measure of productivity for knowledge workers.

That said, our home working data suggests that employees do feel personally more productive (84% agreement) working from home, compared with survey results from employees working in offices (64% agreement).

Rather than spy on employees, organisations need to engage with them and create a continuous channel of two-way communication. Employee sentiment is naturally volatile during periods of turmoil and uncertainty. The key is to have systems in place that measure these changes, rather than making assumptions about engagement or performance without actual evidence.

After almost a year and a half of collecting data on employees’ experiences working from home, it’s clear that home working is a challenge to employees’ sense of community. Perhaps this isn’t surprising when we consider that Zoom is no substitute for the now highly prized serendipity that can only happen when people are in one another’s company. Our data also suggests that the lack of community when people work remotely is also hindering other key components of teamwork, such as the ability to learn from others (65% agreement) and informal social interaction (51% agreement).

As part of any hybrid planning, organisations must understand how proximity impacts an employee’s ability to do the activities essential to their roles and the broader impact this distance will have on areas such as innovation, business strategy and culture. Employee satisfaction and support levels with home working may very well have changed since the onset of the pandemic and are subject to further shifts as new variants continue to emerge, sending a clear signal that we are not out of the woods yet.

Though many offices are “opening up” again, albeit with ever-changing government guidelines, varying regional approaches and constraints alongside continued restrictions on travel make welcoming visitors to offices a challenge. As such, visitors cannot experience the same genuine feel for an organisation, its people, culture, or values on a video call. Likewise, we know from previous research into employee workplace experience that the office can be a great source of pride for employees and also impact their broader work experience.

So, what happens when there is no office or only some employees are utilising it? Can employees take as much pride in a virtual space without a tangible symbol of the organisation? It’s imperative that business leaders understand how changes resulting from the pandemic impact employee pride and ways to transmit crucial elements, such as culture and values, to not only employees but also clients and partners.

Work-life balance
If there were concerns in the past that flexible working would erode the barrier between work and life outside of work, the pandemic has bulldozed that wall. For well over a year there have been no commutes and no more 9-5s, and this looks to be the way forward at varying levels around the world. Employees have experienced working from a home office if they’re lucky, but for more than half (56%) the kitchen table or even a bedroom has had to pull double duty as a makeshift office. According to our data, 29% of employees working from home are not able to maintain a healthy work-life balance – a major cause for concern as hybrid working strategies are being rolled out en masse.

Work-life balance is perpetually at risk. Whether it’s changes to lockdown rules during the pandemic or concerns over future volatility, these factors impact everything from employees’ wellbeing to their engagement, productivity and pride. Measuring how employees’ feel about their work-life balance and identifying the factors that impact them on a continuous basis will allow businesses to build a far more accurate and compassionate picture of both individual and organisational performance.

COVID has forced business leaders to define the value of workplace to the organisation and also identified key pressure points that are significant risks to employee wellbeing and therefore business performance. Having data on these key areas will help these leaders make the best possible decisions about providing ongoing support to their employees’ changing needs in a mercurial world.

Data based on 221,841 home working respondents and 860,476 office-based respondents as of 30.06.2021

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