The COVID-19 pandemic brought many unfortunate realities; and one such reality was the unemployment of a vast amount of individuals. This was due to a sudden drop in business, and also the realization that places of employment were no longer safe if workers were congregating. Accordingly, companies were forced to shift to accommodate the changing landscape and now, the pandemic may have forever change the way in which we work. Policy makers and employers have been forced acknowledge the benefits of work from home. Before the pandemic, Americans spent 5% of their working time at home. By spring 2020 the figure was 60%. The shift to remote work has ultimately made many people happier and, perhaps surprisingly, hasn’t decreased productivity.

As we have begun to figure out how to move forward in a post-pandemic world, employees and employers have been tasked with finding the best model for future work. Many individuals were forced to work-from-home during the pandemic, and some relished in the break from trekking to the office day by day. However, others did not appreciate the lack of social interaction with coworkers while others found it difficult to find a place within their home which allowed uninterrupted ‘work time’. The Accenture Future of Work Study 2021 asked 9000 individuals worldwide what they need in order to be productive going forward and found that the majority of workers (83%) prefer a hybrid work model, where workers have flexibility in both their office and home working hours. The benefits of the hybrid model were found to counteract the cons of both full-time office work and full-time work from home models. Indeed, the workers who were able to adopt the hybrid model during the COVID-19 pandemic reported increased mental health, stronger work relationships and yet, were less likely to experience burnout than those who worked entirely onsite.

How do companies feel about adopting a hybrid model? It’s complicated. While some companies have adapted to the changing times, and have increased flexibility for their employees, others are resisting change. In an interview with CNN, Sean Bisceglia, CEO of Curion, said “What we are really missing is that creativity, and that spontaneity and the ingenuity and talking to your teammates face-to-face. The whole creativity has kind of been gutted without people being together. I’ve seen a big cultural effect of connecting to your co-workers.” Furthermore, employers have also raised concerns about the ability of junior colleagues to learn from their more experienced colleagues. Without face-to-face interaction, small tips may not be passed on, and connections between co-workers may not be fostered.

Workers have begun to push back against employers who are mandating in-office work, and many have even opted to quit over returning to in-person work. In early June, Apple CEO Tim Cook sent out a company-wide memo telling staff they would be required to return to office by September. Soon after, employees penned their own letter – telling management that they were unhappy about the return. Many employees feel that they’ve proven they can be productive at home, and the pros of returning to the office just don’t outweigh the cons.

While some companies may not agree that remote work is the best way forward, the facts are undeniable. In a survey by Mercer, an HR and workplace benefits consulting firm, 94% of employers said productivity was the same or higher since pre-pandemic times. The future of work is ever-changing and currently it is unlikely the world will return to our pre-pandemic notion of ‘normal’. However, perhaps the new normal will contribute to improved mental health and overall happiness for individuals through increased flexibility in working conditions.


References:

Accenture. (2021, April 30). The future of work: A hybrid work model. https://www.accenture.com/ca-en/insights/consulting/future-work#:%7E:text=The%20Accenture%20Future%20of%20Work,they’re%20onsite%20or%20off

The Economist (2021, April 10). Pessimism about the labour market is overdone. https://www.economist.com/special-report/2021/04/08/pessimism-about-the-labour-market-is-overdone

Reuters (2020, October 22). Permanently remote workers seen doubling in 2021 due to pandemic productivity: survey. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-technology/permanently-remote-workers-seen-doubling-in-2021-due-to-pandemic-productivity-survey-idUSKBN2772P0

BBC (2021, June 22). The workers pushing back on the return to the office. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210618-the-workers-pushing-back-on-the-return-to-the-office

Forbes (2020, December 27). This Is the Future Of Remote Work In 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolinecastrillon/2021/12/27/this-is-the-future-of-remote-work-in-2021/?sh=62aee88c1e1d

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Sarah Colpitts

Sarah is a PhD student in the department of Immunology. Other than science-ing, she enjoys playing with her dog, winning card games and attempting to become the next Picasso by smearing paint on a canvas.
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