Truth-Bomb: With 34% of global knowledge workers going back to the office FT, work-related stress and anxiety hit their worst level since the summer of 2020. In addition, these same workers say that are 2.6X more likely to look for a new job this year that offers some schedule flexibility compared to workers who already have some.
Knowledge workers do not miss or crave the cubicle. Their lives are overall much, much better with remote and flexible work.
But employers in every sector, and people leaders, are struggling to get their heads around exactly how to make it work forever.
There’s so much to unpack here, but let’s look at 3 key issues I see:
- Concerns about Broken Culture and Connection
Let’s face it. This “concern” missing the real problem.
Truth is if knowledge workers felt a high degree of connection and a strong sense of culture sitting in their cubicles and offices they would be fighting to go back. Culture and connection at work were broken long before remote work. And, many companies are finding ways to maintain unbreakable cultures and a community vibe at work even with flexible hours and locations.
Check out Scott’s Cheap Flights, TechSoft 3D, Reddit, and Alley International for starters. Culture and connection can be vibrant and sturdy with people working remotely and with worker flexibility. It takes some creativity, focus, and discernment, but it can be done. It takes creativity, focus, and discernment in person, too, BTW.
- Worries about employee engagement and happiness
There is copious data about what workers want. Our recent test showed 86% of people want to keep remote and flexible (hybrid) work going forever, and these stats are confirmed everywhere. Flexibility is seen as a gateway to an inclusive workforce as well, since underrepresented groups have typically been more negatively impacted by requirements to work in an office (long commute, lack of equity in visibility, working parents, and more.) For example, Gallup recently reported that 9 out of 10 knowledge workers prefer a hybrid arrangement. Note that CEO’s report feeling happier and more work/life balance than front-line knowledge workers. Could be because they already have the flexibility of hours and location that lower levels crave. The double standard of high flexibility for the C-Suite but not for everyone else is dying—about time.
- Concern about Empty Office Space Come on.
We have gargantuan workforce housing issues, crowded schools and hospitals with no room for the staff they need, and non-profits who can’t afford rent—let’s find a way to use these empty spaces for good for all.
Net-Net: knowledge employees are telling us what they want loudly and clearly: meaningful work that contributes and an ability to make their lives work. We are simply not going back to the office to work at workstations in cubicles with long commutes and stale coffee stations.
Oh, and please remember that people who have to go to a location (fire, safety, retail, food service, medical, and more) also want meaningful work that contributes and to make their lives work. Many of these workers likely want flexibility, too, and in many cases it is possible. Let’s re-examine how shift work is organized to give employees the power to choose. There is no reason in-person jobs where location is fixed cannot also offer the flexibility people seek with creative solutions that acknowledge their needs as well. For example, rebuilding shifts to better serve working parents or asking teams to co-create schedules that work for all.
The world of hybrid work for knowledge workers is here permanently, despite the anxiety the fact that we have to change our role to make it work.
In order to make it successful, employers must do 4 things:
- Build a sturdy and engaging culture that includes your commitment to a high quality of life for everyone that works with you. If people do not want to come back to work even in hybrid ways that foster connection, get curious. What about the culture is toxic and keeping them away? Respond to what they say with plans to enliven and enrich your culture—it is probably long overdue.
- Be conscious and deliberate about the behavioral guidelines and agreements that help you navigate the balance between transparency, control, and flexibility. Leverage tools that allow people to see each other’s work and to talk about it often with ease. Honor the needs that some people have to work at an office or shared space and get creative.
- Reduce meetings by setting specific times for collaboration and also asynchronous ways for people to connect and advance work together. Expect leaders to facilitate structured ways for their team to connect both in-person and virtually when it makes sense. Ask teams to craft agreements that work for the team and accommodate time zones and individual schedules.
- Be clear about your policies and your philosophy and remember that this is a learning process so don’t get too rigid. Employees want to understand what they are signing on to and how it works so the more clear your organization is, the better. At the same time, as the organization learns so do employees. Recognize that hybrid work flexibility is going to present new challenges for workers and management alike—be open and curious as you learn together and try new things.
Hybrid and remote work means we have to be conscious and deliberate about the ways we build work community, how we hold accountability, being clear and and kind, and flexing solutions to individuals where we can.
Sounds like good people leadership to me. Period.
My favorite technique that helps my all-remote team stay connected is via our weekly check-ins during our team meetings. We take turns leading check-in, which sets the tone for human interaction and belongingness. We laugh and learn about each other first. From there, the work flows easily. We have completely revamped how we do projects and organize work in Notion for higher transparency, visibility, and asynchronous accountability.
Virtual is working for us. And, we are planning a team advance in November—there is nothing quite as connecting as face-to-face now and then!
What is your organization doing to meet worker’s needs for a healthy vibrant culture and a life that works? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!