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Returning to the Office: A Post-Pandemic Resource Guide

In episode #1026 of the Arete Coach Podcast, we address the most prevalent questions executives worldwide are facing: how do we confront the post-pandemic workplace? Should we require that employees return to the office? And if so, when and how? With many comparing the productivity and outcomes of work-from-home and in-office employment, we have created a list of statistics, research, and tools introduced by Ozzie Gontang, Bridget Wenman, and Pete Michaels during the podcast episode to help support you in making the best decision for your business.

“As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information” -Benjamin Disraeli, Former UK Prime Minister

Insightful Statistics

The following are a collection of direct quotes, statistics, and summaries of research done by various parties. Consider these statistics when creating your plan for post-pandemic work.

McKinsey & Company (Alexander, Smet, Langstaff, & Ravid, 2021)

  • Organizations that clearly communicate the corporate goals, vision, and policies are seeing an increase in employee well-being and productivity.

    • 40% of employees state that haven’t been informed of any vision for post-pandemic work

    • Employees not given clear direction are feeling anxious about the future

    • Anxious employees are almost 3 times more likely to feel burned out

  • Employees value the flexibility of working from home and hybrid working

    • 52% of workers would prefer a more flexible working model post-pandemic,

  • Employees that are caregivers or parents prefer flexibility in their careers.

    • Only 8% of employees who were also parents suggested that they would like to see a fully on-site model

Buffer Inc, 2021

  • 97.6% of employees would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers

  • 97% of employees would recommend remote work

  • The biggest reported benefit to working remotely from employees was the ability to have a flexible work schedule

  • The biggest struggle to working remotely reported by employees was not being able to unplug

  • 38% of employees are unsure if their company will make them permanently allow remote work

  • Almost half of parents and caregivers pursued remote work because of their position as parents and caregivers

  • 45% of employees state that they are working more and have more meetings now that they work remotely

PwC’s US Remote Work Survey, 2021

  • 83% of employers now say the shift to remote work has been successful

  • Most executives are looking to change some factors about the office from the way it was pre-pandemic

  • 75% of executives expect at least half of their office employees to be working in the office by July 2021, but only 61% of employees expect the same

  • 55% of employees would prefer to be remote at least three days a week, and 68% of executives say a typical employee should be in the office at least three days a week

  • Employees with the least amount of professional experience (0-5 years) are more likely to want to be in the office

  • 87% of employers expect to make changes to their real estate strategy

  • 83% of employers believe remote work has been a success

  • 72% of employers plan to invest in more tools for virtual collaboration

  • Most US companies are heading toward a hybrid office workweek

  • The pandemic has accelerated an outward migration of knowledge workers from New York and California to less-expensive areas resulting in the relocation of many previously in-person and now virtual employees.

Stanford Insitute for Economic Research (Nicholas Bloom, 2020)

  • Working from home is here to stay, but post-pandemic will be optimal at about two days a week

  • Working from home accounts for over 60% of US economic activity

  • Only 51% of jobs can be carried out remotely

  • Only 49% of employees can work privately in a room other than their bedroom

  • Working from home is more common among educated higher-income employees

Harvard Business Review (Michele Reynolds, 2021)

  • 81% of employees either don’t want to go back to the office or would prefer a hybrid schedule going forward

  • 27% of employees hope to work remotely full time

  • 61% of employees would like to work 2-3 days a week from home

  • 18% of employees want to go back to the office full time

  • 51% of employees are uncomfortable going back to the office until they are fully vaccinated

  • 98% of professional working from home kept their jobs

  • 1-in-3 were actually better able to focus on work from home

“No research without action, no action without research” - Kurt Lewin, psychologist

Research and Analysis

The following resources are research articles that provide greater insight into the topic of working remotely. Included are direct citations and summaries of the findings of these studies.

National Bureau of Economic Research (Bloom, Liang, Roberts, & Ying, 2013)

  • In this research study, a work-from-home experiment was conducted at “CTrip, a 16,000-employee, NASDAQ-listed Chinese travel agency.” Out of all the employees who volunteered to participate in the work-from-home study, 249 were eligible to participate in the experiment. Participants were randomly assigned by public lottery into a work-from-home group and a work-in-office group to remain in for a total of 9 months. Those assigned to the work-from-home category were instructed to work from home 4 out of 5 days a week. At the end of the experimental period, each participant’s data was mined directly from CTrips employee software. Their data covered 7 categories: “performance, labor supply, attrition, promotions, reported employee work satisfaction, detailed demographic information, and survey information on attitudes towards the program” (Bloom et al., 2013)

The results of their study concluded that:

  • 50% of employees assigned to work-from-home positions decided to return to the office. Researchers indicate that this was due to “concerns over being isolated at home”

  • There was no negative impact of working from home on performance or quality of service

  • Working from home increased employee performance worth about “$357 per employee per year”

  • Estimated “office cost savings of about $1250 per employee and reduced turnover savings of about $400 per employee per year

  • Estimated a 30% increase in total factor productivity if every employee worked from home

  • Output increase of 13% when working from home

  • Attrition reduced from 50% to 25%

  • If all employees were made to be work-from-home employees the required office space would decrease by 80%

  • Allowing employee choice generated a far greater effect than requiring working from home...employee choice led to a greater effect than working home in and of itself

  • Although employees who work-from-home have the greater performance they are less likely to be promoted

Harvard Business School (DeFilippis, Impink, Singell, Polzer, & Sadun, 2020)

  • This research included the analysis of “meeting and email meta-data from 3,143,270 users across 21,478 firms in 16 international cities that have been affected by official lockdown orders.” The frequency of emails, the average length of a workday (measured by first and last communication of the day), and the “average number of emails sent outside of normal business hours” were calculated. Researchers found...

  • An increase in the total meetings per person per day

  • An increase in the average number of attendees per meeting

  • A decrease in the average length of meetings

  • A significant increase in the average emails sent per person

  • An increase in the average number of email recipients

  • The amount of emails sent increased sharply at the start of lockdowns but slowly decreased to normal pro-lockdown numbers by week 4

  • After week 8 the average number of recipients per email remained significantly higher than pre-lockdown

  • The average workday of an employee was higher than the average week pre-lockdown

  • More emails are being sent outside of traditional office hours

Harvard Business Review (Julian Birkinshaw, Jordan Cohen, and Pawel Stach, 2020)

  • This research study analyzed the calenders of 40 individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. These individuals were instructed to select a day from the previous week that would be considered a typical workday. They were interviewed on the activities of their selected day. In the interviews, all the activities were broken down into six categories: desk-based work, externally facing work, managing down, managing across, managing up, and training and development. After analyzing the collected data researchers found evidence that suggests “lockdown has helped us more effectively prioritize our work.” While there are many presented concerns about working remotely (such as longevity and the changes in management procedures) researchers point out that…

    • Individuals working from home spend 12% less time drawn into large meetings and 9% more time interacting with customers and external partners

    • Individuals working from home do 50% more activities through personal choice

    • Work is viewed as worthwhile, at least during the COVID-19 lockdown. The number of tiresome tasks dropped down from 27% to 12% when compared to research done in 2013.

Applied Psychology (Bin Wang, Yukun Liu, Jing Qian, & Sharon Parker, 2020)

  • In this research study, mixed-methods investigations were used to explore the challenges experienced by remote workers, virtual work characteristics, and individual differences. Two studies were used to extract the necessary data for analysis. First, semi-structured interviews were done with Chinese employees working from home at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Secondly, a survey of 522 employees working from home during the pandemic was conducted. Their findings are as follows…

    • The four key challenges to remote work include work-home interference, ineffective communication, procrastination, and loneliness.

    • The four key characteristics of virtual work that affected the experience of remote work challenges were social support, job autonomy, monitoring, and workload.

    • Social support was positively correlated with lower levels of all remote working challenges

    • Job autonomy negatively related to loneliness

    • Workload and monitoring both linked to higher work-home interference

    • Workload additional linked to lower procrastination

    • Self-discipline moderated several relationships between working from home challenges and virtual work characteristics.

“The best investment is in the tools of one's own trade.” - Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father of the United States

Helpful Tools and Articles

The following resources are tools, articles, and publications that we believe are insightful and offer additional information regarding post-pandemic work.

Society of Human Resource Management, 2021

  • This resource provides corporate leaders with 10 categories of tasks and considerations to review before returning to the office. The 10 categories included cover: workplace safety, recall procedures, employee benefits, compensation, remote work, communication, new-hire paperwork, policy changes, business continuity plans, and unions.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • The CDC has created a page that helps guide employers, caretakers, government agencies, educators, and many other specified groups on how to navigate the current COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 guidelines are ensured to be “evidence-based and free of politics” and are updated as needed.

PwC, 2020

  • This graphic offered by PwC gives multiple insights to consider for employers looking for greater guidance on the return to work. Topics covered include health and safety, planning, communication, changing demands, rethinking facility and technology, and policy creation. More detailed information can be found on PwC’s article on “what boards should be thinking about” in regards to returning to work.

Perceptyx, 2020

  • Perceptyx, a company focused on business analytics, released this article in 2020 which reviews several key factors for employers to consider when deciding whether or not to return to the workplace. This article focuses on the personal and tactical needs of employees while retaining the importance of employees’ role in healthy business operations.

Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, 2020

  • COVID-19 has affected over “6 million” individuals in the United States alone. This virus has been proven to cause “permanent damage to” peoples’ “hearts, kidneys, lungs, or brain.” 10-15% of patients with COVID-19 have self-reported ongoing health issues because of the virus. These varied physical and mental health symptoms have been named “Post-COVID Syndrome.” This article offers insight for employers who will likely receive workplace accommodations requests under the ADA. Being mindful of the long-term impacts that COVID-19 will have on your employees can help you make more ethical and helpful decisions for your organization and employees overall. For more information on long-term COVID-19 symptoms see also: COVID-19 “Long Hauler” Symptoms Survey Report by Dr. Natalie Lambert and Survivor Corps and The Challenges of Getting Long-Covid Patients Back to Work by Krithika Varagur

Insider Magazine (Hugh Langley, 2021)

  • Google has announced that they expect employees to return to the in-person offices by September 2021. This was met with some opposition from Google’s employees. “62% of Googlers said they wanted to return to the office, although just 8% said they would want to do so full time.” The current dynamic of the Google office space and organizational dynamics directly “cling onto in-person work.” However, Googlers who have maintained their employment virtually are hesitant to return to their pre-pandemic workspace. Many employees have expressed a desire to seek other employment, while others have permanently moved away from their former offices. This article offers insight into the desires and primary concerns of now virtual employees that are being asked to return to pre-pandemic working conditions.

JetBlue’s Virtual Employment Practices

  • Telecommuting Takes Flight at JetBlue -Datamation (Sharon Gaudin, 2006)

  • A Day in the Life: Customer Support -JetBlue

  • JetBlue has taken a virtual approach to employment long before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Their transition to virtual employment has “increased productivity”, increased “flexibility”, and lowered the cost of renting office spaces. According to Margot Miller, manager of reservations at JetBlue, virtual employment began when the airline first started. They have grown their employment from 40 agents to over 1,200 agents. The suggested articles above offer great insight to the success of JetBlue and the working conditions of their virtual employees.

Moving Forward

Our goal in this article is to offer you accurate, insightful, and evidence-based information regarding the current stance of the post-pandemic workplace and the employees that are impacted by it. We encourage you to review these sources and articles to make the most effective and beneficial citation for your organization.

“It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes. What matters most is getting off. You cannot make progress without making decisions.” - Jim Rohn, entrepreneur, author, and speaker

“An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgments simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore." - Edward de Bono- physician, psychologist, author, inventor, philosopher, and consultant

Copyright © 2021 by Arete Coach LLC. All rights reserved.


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