In the past year, the modern workplace experience has gone through some major changes. Reliance on video conferencing platforms for virtual meetings, employees opting to work on a flexible schedule, and advances in remote work technology have shaped the current workplace experience—and that was all before the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in the largest remote work migration of all time.
So, what does the future of workplace experience look like? Now that countless organizations and companies around the globe have shown their affinity for the remote work lifestyle, will there even be a “workplace” in a post-COVID-19 world?
The future of work has long been flexible. But now, with 1 in 2 people reporting that they won’t return to jobs that don’t offer remote work after COVID-19, the future of work is more flexible than ever before.
Introducing: The Work From Anywhere Movement.
It pays dividends to create a workplace with positive employee experience. But, what happens if your workplace isn't just a physical office?
According to the Owl Labs State of Remote Work 2020 Report, 70% of full time workers in the U.S. have been working remotely due to COVID-19 and 23% are willing to take a pay cut of over 10% if it meant they could continue to work remotely at least some of the time. In a world where working from home was recently mandatory, it comes as no surprise that those employees who took a liking to their remote work lifestyle now intend to keep it that way.
Working remotely can mean a lot of different things depending on an organization, a team, or even an individual employee. Today, the work that used to require physical attendance at an assigned desk can typically be completed anywhere with a laptop or tablet and working WiFi. Work is flexible. Work is portable. This means working from anywhere is easier than ever before and manifests in different ways. Remote work can mean having teams with flexible schedules beyond a normal 9 to 5 set up, a fully or partly remote workforce, employees distributed in different offices across the world, or another type of hybrid in/out of office set up.
In a pre-COVID-19 workplace, if we dare to think back that far, remote and flexible work policies were often a necessary part of recruitment and retention efforts, and when addressing employee satisfaction as a whole. Now, with 80% of full time workers in the U.S. saying that they expect to work from home at least 3x/week after COVID-19, it is becoming an essential factor of employee retention and a key way to maximize the workplace experience.
Almost any variation of the Work From Anywhere movement involves working from wherever you happen to be or wherever fits in with your schedule, whether that’s a remote setting, a typical office setting, or a combination of locations. Focusing on seamlessly bridging the gap between the experiences is key for employee satisfaction as a whole. Certain amenities, technology, and cultural initiatives can improve the workplace experience for employees no matter what kind of team they're working on or how frequently they set foot in a physical workplace.
While on paper the difference between working remotely and working in-person is as clear cut as being in or out of the physical office, in reality there are far more adjustments that hybrid and Work From Anywhere employees need to make depending on where they are working from on that given day.
The in-person workplace experience is rooted in face to face interactions and synchronous communication, creating a more immediate and interpersonal environment. On the other hand, the digital workplace experience is rooted in independence and collaborative asynchronous communication, leading to a more trusting and individualistic environment. These two workplace experiences require differing tools and mental preparation, but with the right mindset it is possible to adapt the in-person workplace experience to a digital world.
By creating more successful workplace teams, reducing stress-inducing pain points, and promoting wellness for the entire workforce, you can ensure that your organization's commitment to workplace experience will be evident to all employees—regardless of their location.
No matter the structure, the most successful teams are well-defined. A successful workplace team can look like any number of things, but the foundation is the same: trust and open communication. Strong teams are the foundation of any high-functioning business and when teams don’t get along well, problems can arise that negatively affect the workplace as a whole. So,
Digital teams are teams that are made up of fully remote employees.
Hybrid teams are teams that are made up of a combination of remote and in-person employees.
In-person teams are teams that are made up of fully in-person and on-site employees.
Whether it's a large screen kiosk in an office lobby or an app on every employees' phone, interactive maps make finding and using office resources simple. Office maps show employees at a glance which spaces are available and at what times, avoiding wasted time circling the office for a free space. Maps also benefit employees who aren't typically in the office because they can use them to navigate with confidence without having to ask "where does Michael sit?" every time they stop in the office.
Organizing an office by neighborhoods takes the workplace and makes it a more bite-sized experience for employees. Oftentimes, neighborhoods are used for a certain department, team, or project group to sit together and use the shared resources provided specifically for them. This set up alleviates the social anxiety around navigating an entire office when everything—different workspaces, technology, and relevant people—are all in one, consolidated area. Again, this benefits remote employees too when they stop in the office because they only need to master one section of a workplace instead of an entire floor or building.
If you've ever worked remotely you know how awkward it is when you can't access your email or your video call keeps breaking up. For an organization with remote employees that need to be able to access company data efficiently, arming those employees with VPN and hotspot tech can make a huge difference in their day-to-day productivity. This kind of support wipes away the stress associated with the cost of these tools and the awkward repercussions if they don't have them. No more leaving your in-office colleagues staring at a frozen face on the screen as you disconnect and reconnect to the coffee shop WiFi for the third time.
COVID-19 has introduced a new wave of potential office pain points, but one pain point that is easy to avoid is employees wondering when and if they can work remotely. If you didn’t implement a permanent remote work policy when the pandemic sent everyone to work from home earlier this year, now is the time to do so. A remote work policy is essential for organizations with remote employees, especially for those who are just getting started with remote work. Instituting a clear policy helps remote employees work from anywhere productively, no matter the situation.
To get you started, here is a guide to help you create a remote work policy that works, along with some handy templates to help you do it quickly.
As mentioned above, COVID-19 has the potential to be a large pain point for many employees, in or out of the office. Every state and local government has issued their own COVID-19 mandates for businesses who want to return to on-site and in-office work. When done safely, this return to “business as usual” is possible, but with various new protocols and changes. To ensure you are following the proper health and safety guidelines for working in an office building, turn to these CDC guidelines.
Remember, COVID-19 affects all of your employees, even those who have always worked remotely. To reduce their potential COVID-19 related pain points, have your team leaders or HR representative reach out to them directly and regularly to see how best you can support them during this stressful time.
Employees crave the ability to relax and refresh during a typical workday. Whether it's a soft seat in a quiet corner, a couch placed looking out of a window, or even a meditation booth, offering employees areas to recharge is key in improving workplace experience in an office setting. Make this perk accessible to Work From Anywhere colleagues by sending them a blanket or pillow and suggesting they designate a space in their work area for relaxation.
As organizations focus more on mental health to prevent burnout, wellness programs are becoming more commonplace. With every $1 investment in mental health promotion having a $3 to $5 return on investment, there are significant economic implications of America's currently high levels of absenteeism, presenteeism, and lost productivity resulting from mental health issues. These issues don't stop within the four walls of a workplace. When offering wellness programs like speaker presentations or subsidized gym memberships, make sure remote workers have access to the same programs virtually. If there is no remote option, offer remote workers a comparable video option or stipend to attend a similar wellness program that fits their schedule.
Many employees choose to work remote either some or all of the time because it fits better with their personal lives. In fact, flexible work schedules can help to decrease stress, ease the burdens of the expense of childcare, and help employees avoid lengthy commutes. It's unrealistic to expect all employees at a workstation from 9 to 5 during a typical workday. Instead, within reasonable bounds, allow in-office and remote employees to work on a flexible schedule that allows them to work when they're most productive during the day.
Workplace experience is all about providing employees with the spaces, technology, and resources they need to be productive and happy. With 81% of full-time U.S. employees predicting that their employer will support remote work after COVID-19, supporting the Work From Anywhere movement is increasingly becoming a necessary factor of any modern workplace experience.
Editor's note: This post was originally published on November 11, 2019. It has been updated and republished for thoroughness and accuracy. It was written along with our Boston-area neighbors, Robin.