Data validates future of work looks quite different than pre-pandemic

The enterprise can't just implement a blanket hybrid work policy, as industry, location and listening will inform the future of work, according to new research from Qualtrics.

woman working at desk

Image: iStock/BartekSzewczyk

It's evident remote work is here to stay. Many businesses plan to adopt a hybrid work plan—part work from home, part in office. The pandemic's impact has affected lifestyles, and a new Qualtrics study released Monday uncovers what experiences will continue, including the future of work. 

Qualtrics' data features input from 4,000 global respondents who weighed in on which industries were unexpectedly improved through new experiences, such as what business travel looks like, who wants to return to pre-pandemic level of travel, Gen Z's helming of the future of work and the invariable changes we've gotten used to and what we realized were improved upon.

In fact, Qualtrics starts its report with "The pandemic helped point us toward a better way to work." A new way of work is possible, in which "employees found more meaning at work, and we're learning that workplace flexibility and productivity go hand in hand."

SEE: Working from home: The future of business is remote (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Working from home: How to get remote right (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Both private and professional lives are slowly readopting former practices, such as eating inside a restaurant. As we cautiously return to normal, road warriors are ready to get back on the road, but we're also excited to keep some of the improved healthcare, restaurant and retail experiences we've discovered over the last year.

Respondents cited the top four things they said they missed while working remotely: 

  1. Spontaneous interactions with colleagues I wouldn't have talked to otherwise.
  2. Simply being around other people.
  3. Exposure to a diversity of perspectives and ideas.
  4. Productivity.

Qualtrics discovered that respondents found improved productivity (51%) and well-being—two times more likely than those who say it declined—during the pandemic lockdown. Managers concur: 55% said their direct reports have been more productive.

Generationally, 54% of millennials said they're more productive, 53% of Gen Z, 48% of Gen X and 34% of boomers agree.

Productivity has improved due to flexible schedules (31%), no commute (26%), more control over workspace (24%), ability to focus with fewer work interruptions (24%) and more privacy and personal space (23%).

Employees don't want to give up flexibility, just because the pandemic is over; 80% said the ability to be remote is "important." 

Well-being

Conversely, respondents who claim a decline in their well-being say there are five ways they want help:

  • Conversations with my peers about the difficulties I'm facing.
  • Conversations with my manager about the difficulties I'm facing.
  • Access to the resources I need to do my job effectively (e.g., materials, equipment, technology, support services).
  • Communication from my company leadership.
  • My manager demonstrates an interest in my personal well-being.

Employees want their bosses to be transparent about plans and to let them know as soon as possible; 88% of people whose work announced the next steps are more likely to say their overall well-being improved.

Qualtrics found that well-being is directly tied to retention: the more it's improved, the more likely the employee will stay at the company.

Location, location, location

In what it calls "the pandemic migration," nearly half (47%) of people who moved during the pandemic don't plan on moving back: 25% of Gen Z, 16% of millennials, 9% of Gen X and 6% of boomers.

The 8% who left a city during the pandemic said it was because, (in order):

  1. "I want to be closer to family and friends."
  2. "I just felt ready for a change."
  3. "I want to be somewhere with more space."
  4. "I want to upsize my residence."
  5. "I'm not held there by work anymore."

Shifting office arrangements

After the pandemic, 27% of respondents said they wanted to be in the office 100% of the time; 27% also said they wanted to work a hybrid schedule, with the majority of time spent WFH; 23% said they'd prefer a 50/50 arrangement; 16% said they wanted to be home most of the time, in the office occasionally and 7% said they wanted to be home 100%.

Remote employees weighed in on what hardware and software tools they want for their company:

  • Team communication software (Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc.)
  • Productivity software/tools (for private, non-supervised use)
  • Monitors and workspace electronics
  • A work-provided smartphone
  • Project and task management tools for the team

Qualtrics presented a chart on employees' and their managers' preference for remote work in the future and the response was: Always, 21% employees/18% managers; hybrid, 59% employees/70% managers and lastly, never 20% employees and 12% managers.

Nearly half (48%) of employees want their office layout changed significantly, and while they're there, their top priorities are:

  1. More quiet and private working spaces.
  2. More flexible meeting and collaborative areas.
  3. More space between desks.

Taking action

The best things a company can do to improve remote productivity, according to employees, are access to office space when needed (46%), ability to meet with colleagues in person when needed (46%), access to physical resources when needed (40%), ability to meet with clients customers and other external person (28%) and being able to plan ahead reliably (27%).

Workers overwhelmingly want to travel: 61% who do vs. 18% who do not.

Asked which practices adopted during the pandemic they want to keep, respondents said on-street outdoor restaurant seating, curbside grocery pickup and pre-ordered shopping.

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By N.F. Mendoza

N.F. Mendoza is a writer at TechRepublic and based in Los Angeles. She has a BA in Broadcast Journalism and Cinema Critical Studies and a Master's of Professional Writing, both from USC. Nadine has more than 20 years experience as a journalist coveri...