The Evolution Of Work

It’s Time To Reimagine Where And How Work Will Get Done

How remote working is transforming work itself

A breakthrough study from PWC looks into the impact of remote working and how it has influenced how we will envision the office of the future. Excerpts are presented below. Read the complete report here.

Nine months into a monumental shift to work-from-home, business leaders are more convinced about the productivity gains achieved, but some are no closer to giving up the office.

In many companies, determining what to do with the office is the focal point of a much larger discussion. The success of remote work has reimagined how corporate work gets done, as well as where the work takes place. PwC’s second survey into attitudes about remote work finds US executives and employees converging around a post-pandemic future with a lot more flexibility, yet few are prepared to completely abandon the office space.

As a result, by design or default, most companies are heading toward a hybrid workplace where a large number of office employees rotate in and out of offices configured for shared spaces. This model embraces the flexibility that most employees (and some employers) crave after working from home for months. It’s also a complicated way to organize the work week and is likely to transform a company’s culture, employee engagement, the way the work gets done and how office space is used.

Most of the executives and employees we surveyed expect this hybrid workplace reality to begin to take shape in the second quarter of this year. To be sure, the timing will depend on the rollout of vaccines. Some firms might move more quickly as vaccines become more available or slow down if vaccinations occur slower than anticipated. PwC surveyed 133 executives and 1,200 office workers in November and December 2020.

Top Findings:

  • Remote work has been an overwhelming success for both employees and employers. The shift in positive attitudes toward remote work is evident: 83% of employers now say the shift to remote work has been successful for their company, compared to 73% in our June 2020 survey.
  • The office is here to stay, but its role is set to change. Less than one in five executives say they want to return to the office as it was pre-pandemic. The rest are grappling with how widely to extend remote work options, with just 13% of executives prepared to let go of the office for good. Meanwhile, 87% of employees say the office is important for collaborating with team members and building relationships — their top-rated needs for the office.
  • Employees want to return to the office more slowly than employers expect. By July 2021, 75% of executives anticipate that at least half of office employees will be working in the office. In comparison, 61% of employees expect to spend half their time in the office by July.
  • There’s no consensus on the optimal balance of work days at home vs. in the office. Over half of employees (55%) would prefer to be remote at least three days a week once pandemic concerns recede — little changed from the 59% who said the same in June. For their part, while most executives expect options for remote work, they are also worried about the effects: 68% say a typical employee should be in the office at least three days a week to maintain a distinct company culture.
  • Least experienced workers need the office the most. Respondents with the least amount of professional experience (0-5 years) are more likely to want to be in the office more often. Thirty percent of them prefer being remote no more than one day a week vs. just 20% of all respondents. The least experienced workers are also more likely to feel less productive while working remotely (34% vs. 23%). They’re more likely to value meeting with managers or company training programs than their more experienced colleagues.
  • Real estate portfolios are in transition. Most (87%) executives expect to make changes to their real estate strategy over the next 12 months. These plans include consolidating office space in premier locations and/or opening more satellite locations. Over the next three years, while some executives expect to reduce office space, 56% expect to need more. These mixed findings show that some companies are planning to reinvest the remote work dividend in new ways in order to create a special experience in the office.

Going Back To The Office Is Not An Easy Call To Make

Though almost all companies surveyed expect to be back on their premises and able to support 50% capacity by the end of 2021, much can change. Companies are making their own plans about if and when to go back to the office — and by what proportion. There is no set template.

Companies seeking to retain hard-won agility during the crisis should consider how they can continue to foster collaboration among employees and help enhance productivity in any working environment...

At the same time, the pandemic is accelerating an outward migration of knowledge workers from New York and California to less-expensive locales. Raleigh, N.C., and Austin, Texas, the top real estate markets at the start of 2021, are among the boomtowns attracting more than their share of young workers. Several recent high-profile corporate relocation announcements suggest that some employers are inclined to follow this migration.

Given the trends accelerated by the pandemic, executive leaders need to quickly articulate what their office is meant to accomplish. That clarity will enable them to reimagine how and where their work gets done, how much office space they need and how to support employees to be effective in any work environment.

Executives Are Ready To Ramp Up Return To The Office In 2021; Employees Say Not So Fast

Executives expect to return to the office faster than employees. By July, 75% of executives anticipate at least half of the office workforce will be back on-site. This compares with 61% of office workers, who expect to return to the office for at least half of their time by July. Employee perceptions of their ability to be productive while remote appear to factor in their thinking about returning to the office.

Employees who report decreased productivity when working remotely are more likely to envision being in the office earlier: 55% are already back in the office or say they expect to spend at least half of their time in the office by April 2021, compared with just 36% of respondents who report being more productive during the pandemic. In terms of employee demographics, only age stands out: 25% of the eldest respondents (65 years and older) said they expect to return to the office for at least half of their time by July. At the same time, we found no notable relation by job description or gender with when respondents expect to be back in the office.

Returning to the office won’t be simple. The rollout of vaccines is raising confidence in returning to the hybrid office, but uncertainties remain about how to bring employees back safely, as well as how to align workforce scheduling with school reopenings or when to resume business travel. Companies should develop a strategy that helps meet their goals, while also addressing employee safety expectations and the need for increased flexibility. Employees are likely to expect to work in less densely configured spaces and to seek assurances that health checks are being made.

Hybrid Workplaces Likely To Become The Norm

Executives still highly value physical offices. Most executives (68%) believe that people should be in the office at least three days a week to maintain a distinctive company culture, once the pandemic is no longer a concern. Moreover, 65% believe the office is “very important” to increasing employee productivity, while over half also consider the office very important for employee collaboration, providing spaces to meet with clients and enabling the company culture.

Set Out The Purpose Of Your Office

Communicating what people can expect to accomplish in the office is as important as when companies should plan for employees to return. Specify who needs to be in the office and what they can expect to accomplish while there. Go through a careful evaluation of what happens in the office spaces. What is valuable enough to keep your people coming in? Will the current configuration satisfy shared expectations to use the office primarily as a meeting place?

Be Prepared For Changes In The Post-Pandemic Jobs Market

Just under one in five executives want to get back on-site as soon as possible; they see the office as critical to their success and company culture. This can be a good strategy for companies (and industries) with a great employment brand, but those who already struggle to attract talent may need to mitigate risks of losing talent who want flexibility to work remotely more frequently.

Manage Expanding Choices With Tools & Training

The complexities of a hybrid workplace can be managed with scheduling tools. Employees will need the structure of a set schedule so they can better manage other responsibilities outside the office. And then there’s culture: Many executives wonder how their cultures will evolve and how they can sustain the strengths of their cultures when their workforce is split — or how they can work toward cultural change. Companies seeking to retain hard-won agility during the crisis should consider how they can continue to foster collaboration among employees and help enhance productivity in any working environment.

Read the full report here.