Business leaders and employees disagree significantly on the future of work. The latest report on workplace trends nixes some previous accounts on the return to office concerns and assumptions about technology issues for remote workers.
A report by technology and business solutions firm NTT released Nov. 9 reveals a significant gap between what organizations perceive as the future of work and what employees really want.
NTT’s research finds that business leaders are significantly more satisfied with how they have adjusted to new working norms than their employees. The report points to the need for clearer organizational insight into how employees have reevaluated what they need from their workplace.
The 2021 edition of the Global Workplace Report provides insight into the future of work as businesses around the world prepare for a post-pandemic reality. The results reflecting 1,146 interviews across 23 countries show near-universal agreement that remote working has introduced difficulties.
An almost identical majority of corporate execs and employees — 82 and 81 percent of respondents — say that it has challenged organizational performance and is challenging for employees. Meanwhile, a smaller majority (63 percent) of chief human resource officers (CHROs) say that employee well-being has deteriorated over the course of the pandemic.
Employees Not Too Keen on Remote Work
The study also shows the disparity between executives and workers on preferences for remote working. For instance, 84 percent of organizations believe employees prefer working remotely. This finding contradicts the belief that employees prefer remote working. Employee responses showed that just 30 percent would prefer to work from home full time.
That contrast continues regarding the in-office surroundings. An almost complete majority (95 percent) of CEOs and CHROs agree that workplace design is a key pillar in their sustainability agenda. But 41 percent of CEOs are more likely than operations staff to be satisfied with their organization’s employee experience capabilities.
“Currently, the narrative is all about remote working. But the reality of employees’ needs is much more complicated, and any failure to accurately assess and respond to that fact presents a serious risk to organizations,” said Alex Bennett, global senior vice president for workplace and employee experience practice at NTT.
These are not mild preferences, he noted. The report found that work-life balance and commute times are now the two biggest factors people look at when deciding where to work.
“So performing well on workforce and workplace strategy will be a real competitive advantage,” he offered.
Future of Work Reassessed
The Global Workplace Report, one of the most comprehensive and data-driven research on the future of work to date, uncovered some interesting themes:
- What employees really want is flexibility and support. The top four strategies applied to meet the demands of a modern workforce are flexible hours, wellness, remote/hybrid work, and improved work environment.
- Two-thirds of employees say they are not yet equipped with all the tools they need to work from home, yet more than half (55 percent) of organizations say they are strongly satisfied that they are ready for hybrid working.
- Nine in 10 no longer view the workplace as a physical building. But only half (54 percent) of organizations have been able to define and agree on their future workplace strategy.
- Employee experience (EX) disconnect is real. Employee health and well-being are the number one drivers of employees’ overall experience, but employers and employees do not see eye to eye.
- A large majority (91 percent) of businesses recognize the value of EX as a strategy or crucial strategic differentiator. But only 23 percent of employees are very happy working for their employer. Only 38 percent say their employer fully values their health and well-being.
Wide Perception Gaps
Broad awareness of the issue is not always translating into a realistic assessment of organizational capability. Compared to operations staff, CEOs are 20 percentage points more likely to believe that their organization is very effective at managing working hours.
CEOs are 28 points more likely to believe that they are effective at preventing burnout. Even more, CEOs are 41 points more likely to be very satisfied with their organization’s employee experience (EX) capabilities, according to the research.
This awareness gap mirrors a serious lack of employee confidence. Just 38 percent reported their employer fully values their health and well-being. Only 23 percent said they are very happy working for their employer.
Underlying the satisfaction gap between bosses and workers, the research found a significant degree of diversity in employee attitudes towards their own future working preferences.
For instance, data shows that employees are relatively evenly split when offered a choice of at-home, hybrid, or in-office working arrangements. The slim margins are 30 percent for the first two options and 39 percent for the third choice.
The research also found trends suggesting that a variety of drivers influence employees’ reassessment of their work needs. For example, 41 percent of workers in the 18 to 29 age range strongly prefer working in the office. That compares to 30 percent of those aged over 50.
More Insight Awareness
A clear view of employees’ outlooks is more difficult to see because companies lack thorough data and insight collection, according to the report. Those results are based on voice of the employee (VoE) data.
In terms of data priorities, slightly more than half (52 percent) of businesses report VoE being a top focus. Workplace analytics comes in second at two points higher.
Meanwhile, just 39 percent of organizations have structured VoE programs, and almost the same (37 percent) employ real-time sentiment analysis. That compares to 54 percent of organizations utilizing employee surveys.
The research also showed that using these kinds of data for improving an organization’s EX needs to go much further than day-to-day quality-of-life improvements. At 40 percent, for example, a company’s purpose and values is now the third most important factor for choosing where to work.
In this area, both employees and business leaders concur. Almost all (89 percent) agree that environment, social, and governance (ESG) objectives are at the heart of the organization’s agenda.
NTT’s Bennet looks at this as a call to shift from being about actions to being about outcomes. What is important is not what organizations do to improve the workplace. Instead, think in terms of how it actually benefits the workforce.
“An organization cannot know that without a mature approach to measuring employees’ feelings. Surprisingly, two-thirds of employees say they are not yet equipped with all the tools they need to work from home, and yet 55 percent of organizations say they are strongly satisfied that they are ready for hybrid working,” he observed.
Still, 85 percent of organizations plan to reshape their office space over the next 12 months to foster an environment of innovation and social connection. Clearly, there is an awareness on some level that immature workforce strategies will lead to employee discontent.
“That work should be led by what people actually need,” he urged.
Shift in Thinking
Corporations need to change their thought process from being about actions to being about outcomes, observed Bennett. The important factor is not what companies do to improve the workplace.
Rather, it is how the changes benefit the workforce that really matters. An organization cannot know that without a mature approach to measuring employees’ feelings.
“Clearly, there is an awareness on some level that immature workforce strategies will lead to employee discontent, and that work should be led by what people actually need,” said Bennet.
This great “work from home” experiment the global pandemic forced led workers and companies to realize with the correct infrastructure in place, productivity can be maintained, observed Darryl Wilson, vice president of solution and service architecture — managed collaboration services for NTT Americas Division.
Businesses already on their journey reacted while those sweating IT assets without investing in digital transformation had a harder time to pivot.
“However, what surprised me from the data was the apparent disconnect between the CEO/executives on their preparedness versus the teams in operations that have to execute this digital transformation agenda and the fact that a significant number of users (61 percent) still don’t believe they have the correct technology at home,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Organizations must resolve remote and hybrid employees’ needs for out-of-office technology, he continued. They need an interconnected technology platform to support the hybrid workplace and employees. That need cuts across many areas of IT and cannot be looked at in isolation.
“Our report has shown there still exists some gaps in delivering the promise. The real challenge will be the shift from fully remote to hybrid work and what does that experience look like for example in a meeting with attendees both in the physical office and remote,” he said.
Once the technology platform fits the purpose, the likely cultural and HR changes will make the experience work. A focus on employee experience and technology can grow a unique employee value proposition.
“Those companies that get it right can turn that negative industry trend into a positive one and see that as an opportunity for the great attraction to their businesses,” he concluded.