Employee stress skyrockets due to return-to-the-office plans. Time for a reliable playbook

As companies announce plans for remote workers to return to the office, a new study finds that employee anxiety is surging. Companies call me concerned that many of their employees, including key technical and leadership staff, are resigning rather than returning to the office full time. Why reopen a failed office design?

But there is a reliable play book to have a flexible work environment and a new role for the office that will help you retain and recruit employees, save costs, and raise employee productivity and innovation.

Limeade released its global study of 4,553 employees on April 27th and found that all the employees surveyed have some anxiety about returning to work, 77 percent cited being exposed to COVID19 as their top concern, followed by 71 percent who were concerned about less flexibility, and 58 percent concerned with the commute.

The Limeade survey reveals employees are worried about returning to the workplace as the need for flexibility, communication and care increases. Key findings across all participants regardless of current work location show:

  • 56% of employees say their organization hasn’t asked for their feedback about return-to-work policies and procedures.
  • 29% say their organization shares employee feedback from surveys with them.
  • 45% say their organization either doesn’t take action based on survey results or does so only to a small extent or that they are uncertain about what their company does.
  • 81% say their productivity either stayed the same or increased since shifting to working from home.
  • 82% say health and safety for themselves and their family is the top source of stress when looking at the year ahead.

The survey was administered on an online global surveying platform. Data was collected from 7,846 participants from various countries. After data cleaning, the final sample consisted of 4,553 full-time employees, over the age of 18, representing France, Germany, United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.

Research shows that half of the office employees sent home for safety due to the pandemic do not want to go back to the pre-pandemic office. They want a hybrid work environment that allows them to work at least half the week from home and permits more flexibility during the workday to reduce stress and burnout.

Many executives I speak to long for the good old days of all office employees working together in the office. Others realize that their workforces want a new normal of safely working in the office and at home two to four days a week.

Change is difficult. But why return to a normal that half the workforce doesn’t want? Why return to an office design that generated high real estate costs and was unproductive? Why waste the valuable time and money of your employees with long commutes? They are as productive or more productive now than when they worked full time in the office.

There is a tested playbook for optimizing a remote workforce and defining the role of the office. This playbook will help you retain and recruit employees, save costs, and raise employee productivity and innovation.

Now is the time to optimize remote work and redefine the role of the office based on a playbook of proven results.

In 2012, I led an executive team that implemented a remote work transition for Medtronic in Santa Rosa, CA. Our purpose was not to avoid a pandemic. We needed to avoid the high cost of transitioning manufacturing space to office space and save $2 million a year to fund essential research and development for the business’s growth.

We allowed 45 percent of the workforce to work remotely. We enjoyed a 22 percent increase in productivity with remote workers, a $2 million annual reduction in real estate costs, better morale and work-life balance, and improved ability to recruit top and more diverse talent.

The lessons from this successful transition are informative for today’s pandemic-driven evolution to the future office. Companies that do not create a flexible work environment for their office workers and redesign their office environment to allow the flexibility workers want will see a rise in turnover and will struggle recruiting employees. Moreover, they will be tying up valuable money in unnecessary real estate space that could be better used to fund R&D or other necessary business costs.

Click here to learn six key lessons to optimize remote work and create the office of the future, in 2021.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting, managing partner of InnovationOne, and Sales Advisor to MeBeBot. He works with companies to transform HR, implement remote work, recruit executives, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at  www.VictorHRConsultant.com. 

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