The way we work has changed more over the past two years than it did in the century prior. And with this changing workplace culture, employee expectations are changing, too. 

Now that the majority of U.S. workers have had a chance to experience remote and hybrid work, people are seeing the benefits - like better work life balance, less stress during meetings, and feeling overall happier.

With employee preferences shifting, flexibility in where and when people work has become table stakes, leading many organizations to embrace and adopt hybrid work models. After almost two years of this massive shift to hybrid work, we are beginning to see more concrete workplace infrastructure changes that reflect hybrid workplace needs, like technology-infused spaces and more agile seating areas. 

Hybrid work is not a one-size-fits-all approach. For employers, managers, and leadership teams, understanding what employees want is essential to recruiting and retaining top talent, and keeping current employees engaged. It also requires listening, learning what works for your employees, and collaborating to find new ways to support teams in the evolving workplace. 

To learn more about what employees want after nearly two years of remote and hybrid work, we asked 2,050 U.S. full-time workers about their experience. We aimed to understand where, when, and how they perform best, what is serving them well, what needs to change, and what is important to them for the future of work - our fifth annual State of Remote Work Report covers it all.

We’re excited to share the data from our latest report in collaboration with Global Workplace Analytics. We uncovered remote and hybrid work statistics for 2021 that will help employers guide their workplace policies and how their companies operate for 2022, and beyond. 

In our fifth year uncovering data about the ways people work, we’ve also found ways to support our own workforce, with 40% of our employees working remotely even before the pandemic. We’ve been studying and understanding the data and walking the walk, so we know how it feels to develop a return to office plan or decide on a hybrid work policy. We’re excited to share our perspectives on the data and help leaders map out the best ways to support their teams during a transitional time. 

state of remote work 2021 5th annual edition report available now owl labs

2021 Workplace Trends

Some key themes that emerged from the our 2021 State of Remote Work Report include employee preference for flexibility and optionality, an evident wave of job changing, and employer commitment to hybrid workplaces. Here’s the full breakdown:

Employees are demanding flexibility from their employers.

In a job seeker’s market, employees can choose to search for roles that offer flexible work, or they’ll go elsewhere. When asked what employees are looking for in their employer, 87% of respondents said that flexibility in where they work is important to them, and 91% said the same for flexibility in when they work.

During the pandemic, 27% of workers said they relocated and 6% moved permanently— if given the opportunity, employees want the freedom to work from the locations that work for them.

There’s a disconnect between employee expectations and employer requirements.

39% of employers are requiring employees to be in the office full-time post-pandemic, but only 29% want to be. Employers— when’s the last time you conducted a survey to find out what your employees want from their company? 

Hybrid work has become the norm in 2021, and employers are investing in workplace infrastructure changes to power it.

Many people have returned to the office in some capacity. Of those that worked from home during the pandemic, 73% have returned to the office at least one day a week, with 25% returning in September 2021. 

These offices that people are returning to, though, look a bit different now. Since the start of the pandemic, 22% of companies have reduced office space, while 21% have increased their office footprint. Those increasing their footprint may be investing in satellite offices, additional wellness spaces and collaborative spaces, and bookable desks and meeting rooms for a “shared workspace” style hybrid office.

Companies are also investing in much-needed (and usually much-overdue) tech upgrades. However, only 38% of employers have upgraded their video technology to allow for more hybrid collaboration, leaving a growth opportunity for the remaining 62% of organizations. Spaces need to be built remote-first to ensure all participants can actively contribute, no matter where they dial-in from.

Employees are seeking new opportunities. 

1 in 4 respondents changed jobs or are actively seeking a new opportunity. The “Great Resignation” continues as workers seek out flexible roles that excite them and provide work-life balance, a strong company culture, and compelling benefits. 

Remote and hybrid work are making people happier and less stressed.

Flexibility and optionality are the future of work. When navigating back-to-back Zoom calls, having children at home, or a long commute on office days, hybrid and flexible work can help employees better balance work and home life, leading to people being happier and less stressed.  

People are divided: one third would like to work from home full time, one third would like to be in the office sometimes, and one third would like to be in the office full-time. People are seeking flexibility to balance responsibilities part of the time, but don't necessarily want to be home all the time. Some people actually don't mind the occasional commute as it allows them to leave their home and access a change of scenery, listen to podcasts or catch up on audiobooks, and find some peace and quiet in their busy schedule. 

Of those that worked from home during the pandemic, 70% of employees say virtual meetings are less stressful. 82% said after the pandemic, working from home would be better for their mental health. And a majority of respondents had clear feelings on the ability to work from home:

84% said working from home after the pandemic would make them happier. 

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Hybrid is here to stay, but it isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. It's up to employers to determine the right workplace policies for their teams and invest in the right tools, platforms, and technologies to make hybrid work. The pandemic showed us that health and safety remain a top priority, which spans physical, mental, and emotional health. With the use of the right collaborative technology, the workplace isn’t tied to a physical location, but represents the community of people who work for an organization.

Remote work had its biggest year yet. Where and when we work is changing and our 5th annual State of Remote Work report has it all. Get the full report here