As the American workplace reopens, not all employees are onboard with returning to the “old normal.”

A new survey finds that nearly half of employees who are currently working from home want to keep it that way.

The forced shutdown of the American workplace began in mid-March. Only now, ten weeks later, are things beginning to open back up in a significant way.

But those ten weeks have revealed some interesting attitudinal changes on the part of many employees. Simply put, quite a few of them have concluded that they like working from home, and don’t much care to return to the “traditional” work routines.

It’s an interesting development that illustrates yet another manifestation of “the law of unintended consequences.” For decades, the opportunities to work from home seemed to be a realistic proposition for only a distinct minority of certain white-collar workers and top-level managers.

Reflecting this dynamic, prior to the Coronavirus outbreak just ~7% of the U.S. private sector workforce had access to a flexible workplace benefit, as reported in the 2019 National compensation Survey released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Suddenly, working from home went from being a rarefied benefit to something quite routine in many work sectors.

In late April, The Grossman Group, a Chicago-based leadership and communications consulting firm, conducted an online survey of nearly 850 U.S. employees who are currently working from their homes.  A cross-section of age, gender, geography, ethnicity and education levels were surveyed to ensure a reliable representation of the U.S. workforce.

The topline finding from the Grossman research is that nearly half of all workers surveyed (48%) reported that they would like to continue working from home after the COVID-19 pandemic passes.

The reasons for preferring work-from-home arrangements are varied. Certainly, the prospect of reduced commuting time is a major attraction, along with other work/life balance factors … and while some employees have found that setting up an office in their home isn’t a simple proposition, it’s also clear that many employees were able to adjust quickly during the early days of the workplace lockdown.

David Grossman, CEO of The Grossman Group, sees in the survey findings a clear message to employers:  Worker preferences have evolved rapidly, necessitating a re-imagining of traditional ways of working. Grossman says:

“A great deal has changed in employees’ lives in a short time, and if we want them to be engaged and productive, we’re going to have to be willing to meet them where they are as much as possible … that’s a ‘win-win’ for companies and their people.”

He adds:

“Many employees have gotten a taste of working from home for the first time – and they like it.”

Interestingly, the Grossman Group survey found practically no generational differences in the attractiveness of a work-from-home option; whether you’re a Baby Boomer, a Gen X or Gen Z worker, the attitudes are nearly the same.

Of course, not every type of work is conducive to working remotely. Many jobs simply cannot be done without the benefit of a “destination workplace” where mission-critical machinery, equipment, laboratory and other facilities are accessed daily. But the COVID-19 lockdown experience has shown that employees can be productive no matter where they are, and a “one-size-fits-all” approach to the workplace likely won’t cut it in the future.

This might be a little difficult for some people to hear, but employers will have to set aside concerns about potential slackening employee motivation and productivity in a remote working environment, lest they lose their talent to other, more flexible employers who are figuring out ways to manage a remote workforce effectively over the long-term.

As David Grossman contends, “More flexibility adds value to the employee experience, builds engagement, and brings results.”

Additional findings from the Grossman Group research can be accessed here.

What are your thoughts on the topic, based on your own experiences and those of your co-workers over the past 10 weeks? Please share your opinions with other readers here.

 

3 thoughts on “As the American workplace reopens, not all employees are onboard with returning to the “old normal.”

  1. I transitioned to WFH last September and I love it. I find I am much more productive than in my old office, where noise and disruptions affected my concentration and ability to complete tasks without interruption. So when the lockdowns happened, there was no change for me.

    However, my employees, my boss and many of my colleagues made the transition to home-based working. I worried about the possibility of people being slack or unavailable. But I’ve found the opposite.

    My direct team is doing a great job; one even has a toddler at home now and the other has a spouse teaching online lessons all day in the other room. Generally, I’ve seen everyone pulling their weight — in some cases, our workload has increased yet we’re keeping up with demand. I wouldn’t be surprised if more of my colleagues ask to remain at home at least a couple of days a week.

    Using IM tools to help with quick communication also shows us when everyone is available and online. Using video meetings and collaboration tools helps some teams, too. I’m sure other innovations will turn up to make WFH or Work From Anywhere easier.

  2. A department store study a few years ago produced the surprising result that store clerks, stuck in place at work for too many hours, were using 47% of store wi-fi in an attempt to run their private lives, take care of shopping, children, doctors’ appointments and the like. The assumption had always been that our long American work hours were automatically productive. It turned out they weren’t. Employees felt like prisoners more than they dared admit.

    If you divide GDP output of a country like the Netherlands by the number of hours the average worker actually spends on the job, you discover the Dutch are even more economically productive per capita than we are. And the French may have only about 71% of our living standard, but they achieve it with a mere 60% of the hours worked.

    In other words, there is plenty of wiggle room in “how to work.” The pandemic has finally given workers emotional permission to assert how and where they actually want to do so.

  3. In my opinion, the quest to suddenly discover the “work from home” as the new found holy grail of efficiency, worker satisfaction and office overcrowding is misplaced.

    One should not take the temporary euphoria of “we handled the situation” by having everyone who can hook up a computer at home confused with the ongoing and already established jobs which can be effectively done in an home office.

    I will challenge the notion that only because it can be done and is being falsely proclaimed as the “new normal” by the media, we (the company) now accept it as such. There must be reasons why the normal evolutionary process of getting things done quicker and better has not brought us to the point of where many proclaim the pandemic has brought us!

    Too many distractions, lack of creative solution-finding by team interaction, better hardware at the office etc. etc. are preventing the wishful thinking from becoming a realistic alternative.

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