It’s a gross understatement to say that COVID-19 changed the workplace in unimaginable ways. Now it’s time to delve into exactly what this means for employees and to examine larger implications for the workforce in a post-pandemic world.
To answer these questions, we surveyed 1,000 enterprise employees who had worked in the physical workspace and now work remotely full time. The big takeaway is that a large majority (70%) of respondents said the experience was better and more productive than they anticipated. But that number only tells part of the story. To get a complete picture, we wanted to understand the Four Ls: what they liked, what they learned, what they lacked, and what they longed for.
Employees liked not having to commute and having fewer interruptions. They learned that they can get more done in less time working remotely, with 67% respondents saying they’re getting their work done in fewer hours per week since transitioning to full-time remote. But employees still lacked enough downtime and time on vacation due to the regional lockdowns and travel restrictions. When it comes to what workers longed for, the answers largely depended on each employee’s perspective.
Gen Z wants more software automation, millennials are looking for better hardware, Gen X desires more flexibility, and boomers would be happy with a bump in pay.
While the results of the survey were positive overall, we also learned that certain workers are struggling, with 49% of respondents saying they are sadder and lonelier working during the pandemic. (Again, the impact on mental health largely depended on the worker’s age. When asked if working remotely had affected their personal wellness, 45% of boomers, 21% of Gen Xers, 20% of millennials, and 15% of Gen Zs indicated it had not.) Though these numbers are largely attributable to virus-related concerns, we see an opportunity to learn how to positively affect employees’ mental health.
Avoiding the Crash
As most of us know all too well, the lines between work and home life have blurred.
We know that folks are overtaxed right now and living in a whole new world of challenges. Imagine carnival plate spinners. They’ve got ways to attach poles to their shoes, and before you know it, they’ve got seven plates spinning. We as humans are plate spinners. No matter how skilled we are, at some point, the last plate is too much, and all the plates will come crashing down.
Think of how work looked a year or 2 ago: Work was a lot, taking care of your family was a lot, and self-care was a lot. Any of these responsibilities by themselves was a lot, but put them all together, and layer over a pandemic. You don’t want the fact that employees don’t have an easy way to take time off to be the last plate that makes all the others come crashing down. Not only are employees spinning plates on their company’s behalf, but they’re also spinning plates on behalf of a whole lot of other people.
We’re doing better than expected at being at home, but we’re also seeing more burnout, likely because folks aren’t taking time off even though they have the vacation days to spare. Organizations can vouch for the fact that the burnout is real, the slip-ups are real, and the fatigue from all those back-to-back Zoom meetings and the blurred work/life boundaries is real.
As a company, one solution is to ensure you’re making it possible for workers to take time off how and when it works for them and that they have all the tools they need to move forward.
Our survey found that employees believe they could be more productive with better tech equipment, easy-to-use automation software, and additional flexibility. Having a comfortable and efficient workspace is as important at home as it is at the office, so make sure your workers have the equipment and support they need.
Digital Capabilities Give Organizations an Advantage
Where companies had implemented digital transformation platforms before the pandemic, they were better able to transition and manage inefficiencies and gaps in productivities. Software solutions that simplify complex processes can help ease employees’ stress and fatigue. Once again, here’s where perspective comes into play.
When you ask senior-level employees about artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, they’ll say they’re at the right level and their company is providing what workers need. But when you ask the rank and file, those in the trenches, they don’t see that. They’ll say they’re running short on AI tooling and automation. It’s a good reminder for us as leaders to think beyond our own experience.
Last, flexibility is paramount and not just because it can increase productivity. Workers will prioritize companies that offer flexible work options, and organizations that can support remote work are going to attract new people and skill sets—now and in the post-pandemic future.
As leaders, we need to think about freeing up our employees to do the specialized work we hired them to do. Streamlining processes and giving our employees as much flexibility as we can to use the skills and brains we hired them for are going to be critical going forward.
The last thing workers need is another plate in the air.
Zoe Clelland is VP of Product Management at Nintex.