Workplace 2021: Powering Permanent Flexibility

Nearly a year into the pandemic, most remote employees are thriving at home, despite some challenges — and their experiences will shape the future of work.

A recent study of 1,000 U.S. employees working remotely during the pandemic found that the vast majority — 70% — feel the experience has been better and more productive than they expected. But workflow inefficiencies, compounded by personal obligations and current events, are taking a toll.

More support and better technology like automation software can help enterprises streamline ineffective processes and provide employees with the permanent flexibility they desire in Workplace 2021.

Key advantages and disadvantages of remote work

 Not surprisingly, many employees have enjoyed the flexibility that remote work provides. Remote workers are largely relishing their newfound commute-free days, which provide more time to spend with friends and family, or on personal hobbies like cooking, exercising and reading.

These benefits translate to employers, too. Because employees are more productive remotely than they expected, they’re getting their work done more efficiently. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they’re accomplishing work tasks in fewer hours per week since transitioning to full-time remote.

Of course, there have been some drawbacks to remote work as well, but many of these are a more direct function of the pandemic than our remote work environment. Workers with dependents, for example, are stressed as they juggle the needs of kids or adult family members in need of care with their full-time workloads. And around half (49%) of all respondents said they’re feeling more sad and lonely than usual. They fear the virus — and are disheartened by the need to distance from friends and family, as well as the restrictions on travel and dining.

Additionally, many employees are frustrated with the low-quality hardware (laptops, monitors, keyboards, etc.) they have access to from their home offices. And tech issues have only been exacerbated by some of the process silos and workflow inefficiencies that have impeded employees since long before the pandemic began.

In the office, it was easy — albeit not the most productive use of time — to track down a colleague to review or approve work and keep projects moving. Without those in-person nudges, however, employees are experiencing unnecessary delays, especially when personal obligations or distractions crop up for working parents, employees with roommates and those dealing with tech issues.

While employers can’t end the pandemic, they can learn from their employees’ experiences — and use those observations to inform the future of work.

Building Workplace 2021

Leaders who have a pulse on current employee sentiment know that workers aren’t clamoring to go back to business as usual. In fact, the majority of employees now favor permanent flexibility. They want to maintain the perks they’ve enjoyed working remotely — with a few tweaks to improve processes and increase support.

Historically, companies have been wary of rolling out widespread remote work policies. Without in-person interactions, organizational leaders thought collaboration, culture and productivity might decline. But if anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to put that theory to the test. And the results have been largely positive.

Most employees have actually been more productive working from home. While the pandemic has certainly presented challenges, the additional time spent with friends, family and on hobbies is a source of happiness. And happier employees are more engaged employees, which further improves productivity, as well as talent recruitment and retention.

To remain agile and keep employees happy, companies should lean into insights gathered during the pandemic-induced remote work trial period — and build a better Workplace 2021.

  1. Provide an equipment stipend. Nearly half (44%) of employees said better equipment for their home office would make them more productive. A stipend allows employees to use funds for their most pressing individual needs, whether that’s faster wi-fi, an ergonomic desk chair or a monitor.
  2. Leverage automation software. Many of the process inefficiencies companies were able to work around in person have come to a head during remote work. Advanced workflow solutions can simplify complex processes and automatically keep projects moving — both in the office and from home.
  3. Establish mental health resources. Even though the pandemic will be temporary, employers have now seen firsthand how external events and stressors can impact employee well-being. Not only should mental health services be standard in benefits packages, but companies should also consider additional offerings, like Microsoft’s virtual commutes, which help employees mentally ease in and out of the work day.
  4. Rethink office spaces. When employees have permanent flexibility, many will likely make fewer trips to the office. Downsizing physical office spaces can reduce overhead and offset the costs of employee equipment stipends. Instead, maximize smaller spaces for in-person activities that require collaboration.

The rapid shift to remote work has provided enterprises with a rare opportunity to experiment with workplace structures and processes at scale. But the results of this experiment are only transformative if we start acting on them now.

With a few upgrades to inefficient processes and additional support, permanent flexibility will be the bedrock of Workplace 2021.

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Dustin Grosse

Dustin Grosse

Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer at Nintex
Dustin Grosse is Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer at Nintex.