Covid disrupted the way we work, but it turns out that change can be good

November 4, 2021 - 7 min read

Hybrid and remote work arrangements

More than half of Americans shifted to remote work last year, seemingly overnight. 

Throughout 2020, COVID-19 shuttered offices, factories, and other large workplaces across the globe in a matter of weeks. While some people had experience working remotely prior to pandemic, the tools, processes, and challenges of working outside the office were new to many. Solace — and a “can do” attitude —  came from the understanding that these arrangements were borne out of necessity and temporary measures until everything “went back to normal.” 

Of course, now we know that there’s no such thing as going back to normal. Now that vaccines have rolled out to large portions of the population and businesses have begun reopening their office doors, the “new normal” looks a lot different than it once did.

90% of enterprise companies are adopting hybrid models that include a mix of both remote and in-office work. 

Salesforce, a company always on the leading edge of workplace innovation, announced they are giving their employees flexible working options that include fully remote, office-based, or a flexible mixture of the two. Apple, a company that has always prioritized in-person collaboration (and has a business built on constant innovation), now requires most of their workforce to only come in three days a week.

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And the shift to hybrid work extends well beyond the world of tech. Ford recently announced that 30,000 of its workers have the option to work from home indefinitely. This was welcome news —  95% of their workforce expressed a desire for a hybrid work model.

Recent BetterUp member data confirm this trend and suggest that more people are settling into fully remote or hybrid working arrangements rather than returning to the office full time.

While organizations across industries seem to be embracing remote and hybrid alternatives to the traditional 9-to-5, how will this new spectrum of working arrangements impact employees?

To answer that question, we compared how employees felt at the start of the remote work trend with how they felt six months later to see how remote and hybrid work arrangements were affecting them.  

What the data say:

Our BetterUp member data revealed that the initial shift into hybrid and remote work seemed to be equally disruptive to important factors like productivity, resilience, and well-being.

Workers reported a number of challenges ranging from spotty w-fi and technical issues to increased distractions and loneliness.

However, when we checked back in with the same members 6 months later, we found positive long-term benefits across all working arrangements. Specifically, members showed improvements in productivity, resilience, and well-being (as compared to pre-shift levels) regardless of the work arrangement into which they were shifting. 

So while there are differences between each type of working arrangement, it was possible for our members to benefit over time from any work arrangement.

These effects aren’t tied to any specific job function or previous working arrangement. This suggests that these positive effects may be tied to change itself, and adapting to change, rather than any one specific working arrangement. 

What this means:

It’s anybody’s guess whether organizations will stick with these remote and hybrid work options long after the pandemic ends, but it seems as though work arrangement shifts can have positive long-term benefits for employees productivity, resilience, and well-being.

While it's true that the abrupt shift to remote work was initially jarring for many, the impact of that rapid transition has seemed to dissipate over time. Workers have settled into new routines, embraced new technologies, and developed new processes to make working from home — or in and out of the office — work for them. 

They’ve also grown accustomed to the benefits of telecommuting, including better work/life balance, less distractions, and greater overall happiness. Our data even showed a 56% increase in creativity and innovation

As companies continue to experiment and adapt to changing employee and organizational needs, it seems prudent for them to consider that the ideal working arrangement may not be one size fits all — for people or for companies. They can also take comfort in the data that shows any of the work arrangements can lead to positive results.

The other point: while companies should adjust and adapt work models based on how it’s working for employees, if you’ve made a significant change, there is also value in giving it time. Individuals need time to adjust and adapt their work practices and again sort out how to use technology to stitch it together. Companies will have to balance responsiveness and iteration with avoiding whiplash. 

Empowering employees with the flexibility to decide what works best for them yields long-term benefits for the employee that don’t have to come at the expense of the company. With a thoughtful approach to work arrangements that balance flexibility with company objectives, it is possible to make remote work — or hybrid work, or in-office work —  a win for everyone involved. 

 

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Published November 4, 2021

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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