Owl Labs, in collaboration with remote work research and consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics, released its fifth annual State of Remote Work report. Owl Labs surveyed more than 2,000 full-time employees across the United States to gauge how workplaces are functioning nearly two years into the pandemic, and what they’re planning next.
The report delves into the many complexities of remote and hybrid work and identifies how some employers are underprepared for the hybrid workplace of 2022. It also explores why employers should be more concerned about team burnout and retention and examines the next frontier of workplace trends and emerging technologies.
“Adapting to remote work has been the predominant theme for nearly two years, but the theme of 2022 will be adapting to a hybrid workplace and defining what that means for teams,” said Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs. “Owl Labs has been hybrid since before the pandemic, so we have solved for many of the pain points. We know firsthand that most companies are not prepared for the level of complexity in our hybrid world. Successful businesses are the ones thinking about a long-term hybrid strategy and developing a new way of working that is productive and effective for both businesses and employees.”
While hybrid has been a popular buzzword throughout the pandemic, the data show hybrid is the future of work, to accommodate a variety of employee preferences and needs. Nearly 3/4 of employees (71 percent) want to have a hybrid or remote working style post-pandemic.
Hybrid is also the present state of work, as nearly three in four employees (73%) who worked remotely during the pandemic have already returned to their workplaces in person at least one day a week. Employees’ current preferences are split in nearly equal thirds between remote, in-person, and hybrid work – 34 percent prefer to work remotely full-time; 29 percent want to attend in person full-time, and 27 percent prefer to go to the office between one and four days per week.
Even within the hybrid work category, there are many ways to implement hybrid policies, and the data clearly show there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that satisfies everyone, so flexibility and clear communication are key. Unclear expectations are causing 42 percent of employees to feel stressed out by uncertainty around their employer’s work location requirements.
While there are many benefits of hybrid work, there are also pain points that underprepared businesses will face for the first time in the coming months, which can be solved with thoughtful policies, new technology, and experimentation.
While 70 percent of workers say virtual meetings are less stressful than in-person ones, an equal percentage find it difficult to participate in conversations on hybrid video calls, with some attendees in the office and others joining remotely. Other common struggles include not being able to tell who’s speaking (72 percent), feeling disengaged (66 percent), missing visual cues like facial expressions (63 percent), and not being able to see the whiteboard (63 percent).
Despite these frustrations, only 38 percent of respondents said their employers have upgraded their video technology to allow for more hybrid collaboration. Owl Labs expects to see this number increase in the coming months, as fully remote holdouts gradually navigate a hybrid return to communal workplaces.
“Make no mistake, hybrid working will introduce new challenges,” said Kate Lister, President of Global Workforce Analytics. “We’ve grown accustomed to all being equal squares on a screen but when some people are in the room and some are not, we will need to be very intentional about making sure everyone’s voice is heard.”
One surprising finding is that only 1 in 10 managers (11 percent) are concerned about employee burnout, despite the fact that 1 in 4 workers (25 percent) changed jobs during the pandemic’s Great Resignation and 87 percent of them did so to decrease their stress. It’s not shocking that the mental health challenges of the pandemic have taken a high toll on employees, with nearly 1 in 3 (32 percent) working remotely from inside actual closets at least some of the time.
Nearly 2/3 (63 percent) of respondents who worked from home during the pandemic also had to care for children or dependents, with these caregivers facing additional mental health challenges and increased burnout risk.
As women disproportionately reported filling the caregiving roles in families with young children, it comes as no surprise that women changed jobs 47 percent more than men during the pandemic. The caregiving gender gap may also be why men who have returned to work in person are enjoying it 24 percent more than their female counterparts.
Offering the flexibility of hybrid work is one way that employers can prevent burnout in the longer term. About 82 percent of employees say having the option to work remotely at least part-time post-pandemic would improve their mental health and 3/4 (75 percent) said it would make them less likely to leave their employers. Not having the option to work remotely at all would be a dealbreaker for 1/4 of employees (25 percent), who said they would quit their jobs in that situation.