The key to a happy and productive workforce? Flexibility, trust and a focus on wellbeing

A survey of 10,000 UK workers found that the ability to work remotely, and being trusted to do so effectively, were key drivers of both happiness and productivity among employees.

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UK workers want to see flexible-working arrangements become the norm.

Image: iStock/Chinnapong

The opportunity to work remotely and a renewed focus on wellbeing are the keys to a happy and productive workforce, according to a survey of 10,000 UK workers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many employees to work from home, and while the past year has been far from glittering for employee wellbeing, it has given people a taste of the benefits that hybrid working can offer.

A survey by cloud communications company Avaya found that employees were eager to see flexible working arrangements become a permanent fixture of the post-pandemic working world. Almost half (46%) of respondents to the company's Life and Work Beyond 2020 study said they viewed "work from anywhere" arrangements as a viable way forward, while the same proportion said they loved the idea of being able to work from anywhere for the foreseeable future. Only 10% of respondents were strongly opposed to this prospect.

Sixty-two percent of respondents said they were happier at work because they were able to work from anywhere, Avaya found. This flexibility also appears to be driving productivity: 46% of respondents said they were getting more work done because they were happier and had figured out how to make remote working work for them. This represents a key finding for businesses that want their workforces to flourish as the world emerges from COVID-19 restrictions, Avaya said.

Remote working may also have a benefit for employer-employee relationships. According to Avaya's study, 65% of UK workers felt that their employer trusted their ability to work remotely productively and effectively. This trust equated to greater satisfaction among employees, with 57% of respondents saying they were happier because their boss had faith in them to be productive while working from home.

Organizations themselves, meanwhile, have mostly responded well to employees' changing needs, with 58% of respondents saying they'd been equipped with the necessary tools to work effectively from home.

Looking forward, more than six in 10 employees said they were eager to carry on working remotely, and would support government policies that encourage a hybrid work environment . With the upcoming UK Employment Bill expected to introduce new policies around flexible working, UK workers seem optimistic about a greater emphasis on work-life balance in their professional lives moving forward.

SEE: COVID vaccination policy (TechRepublic Premium)

But remote working in the pandemic has by no means been a qualified success. With employees now working and living in the same space, the boundaries have become increasingly blurred, making it more difficult for workers to switch off at the end of the day.

With unions now calling for ministers to draft a 'Right to Disconnect' into the forthcoming Bill, there are also concerns about what the rapid acceleration of remote-working technologies means for privacy and job security. Avaya found that 43% of UK workers were worried about being monitored by their employers when working remotely, while 45% reported being anxious about how automation would impact their role.

Workers have also been missing out on the social aspects of office life, and Avaya found that loneliness was a "significant factor" affecting employees' wellbeing. Exactly half of respondents to the survey said that they felt lonelier when digital communication was their only means of connecting with others.

This plays into the wider trend of a downturn in workers' mental health over the past year, with anxieties around COVID-19 also taking center stage in people's minds. Only 27% of respondents to Avaya's survey reported no change in their emotional state between 2019 and 2020, with 43% saying they were less happy or significantly so. Eighty-two percent of respondents identified COVID-19 as the biggest culprit, while 68% blamed decreased interpersonal interaction.

The paradox is that employees appear mostly opposed to a return to the office  -- or at least, a return to pre-pandemic office life. Just over half (52%) of those who responded to Avaya's survey said they worried about going back to a "fully in-office workday", while 50% said they were actually happier because they had less face-to-face contact with other people.

SEE: Wellness at work: How to support your team's mental health (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Experiences of remote working will never be universal, and one of the main takeaways from Avaya's survey -- as well as countless others that have explored the topic over the past year -- is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Even so, there seems little doubt that employees expect -- and may even demand -- a working life that offers more freedom and flexibility in future, particularly when it stands to offer so many gains in their day-to-day wellbeing.

"A renewed focus on wellbeing, a drive to inject humanity into the customer experience, and a preference for hybrid working are the three major trends driving life and work beyond 2020," Avaya's report said.

"Meanwhile, a focus on the employee experience has become paramount; organizations should ensure their workers are equipped and empowered to perform at their best irrespective of where they work from."

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