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Hybrid work can be better than in-person as long as leaders and workers know how to collaborate. That’s what Ernst & Young found in the new Future Workplace Index. In fact, many companies report that corporate culture is better now than before the pandemic hit.

EY surveyed more than 500 C-suite and business leaders in the U.S. and found an interesting picture of the new reality: work has fundamentally changed, and companies will likely never go back to a traditional nine-to-five, in-office schedule.

Seventy-two percent of companies report that their culture improved while operating a hybrid work model. Interestingly, 62% of this group said that their culture has improved since the start of the pandemic. Also, 58% of companies said health and wellness of employees is better now than pre-pandemic.

SEE: Home vs. office: Why there’s such a disconnect between workers and employers

Francisco J. Acoba, principal, strategy and transactions for corporate real estate consulting at Ernst & Young, said that these improvements in company culture can be attributed, in part, to better collaboration.

“In fact, 53% of companies that highlighted deterioration in culture during the pandemic were not able to maintain effective employee collaboration,” he said. “Poor or ineffective collaboration technology was a likely contributor to this challenge.”

The survey also found that 75% of companies can see a future with no centralized workspace. Only 13% of companies expect to have 90% or more of employees in the office full-time post-COVID-19. The survey also found that 70-85% of respondents say their current set-up is as or more effective than how they worked pre-COVID-19.

“In a future where companies do not have a single dominant work location, the importance of nurturing and building a strong corporate culture grows even more critical,” Acoba said.

Acoba recommends that companies define the types of activities that should be done in the office versus virtually and set expectations for the workforce to ease the transition to new ways of working.

Telecom, insurance, wealth and asset management and technology sectors have seen the biggest improvements in productivity over the last 18 months, according to the survey. The factors driving this improvement are:

  • More efficient operations and processes
  • Better employee collaboration
  • More effective R&D
  • Better management of staff

The index research also found that:

  • The future is hybrid: What used to be a universal perspective on “the right place” to work has shifted as 87% of companies say the pandemic has changed the role of the office for their organization.
  • Productivity is up: According to 57% of business leaders, productivity is better today than it was pre-pandemic, as companies have found ways to enhance productivity with different working models.
  • Small to midsize companies are finding it easier to adapt and thrive in a hybrid workplace: This is particularly the case in the technology and banking sectors, where large firms are finding their current setup less effective than their smaller peers.

EY uses virtual collaboration tools, including video conferencing, digital whiteboards/workspaces, unified communications, detailed training and responsive support professionals to make sure hybrid work is successful, Acoba said.

“We also found that by providing more flexibility, our employees were better able to schedule and structure their days to balance professional and personal commitments,” he said. “For many, this also enabled better peer-to-peer and employee-to-manager conversations.”