Owl Labs, the first company to build 360-degree video conferencing solutions, in collaboration with leading 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.”
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Employers Are Underprepared for the Hybrid Future of Work
While hybrid has been a popular buzzword throughout the pandemic, the data shows that hybrid is the future of work, in order to accommodate a variety of employee preferences and needs. Nearly 3/4 of employees (71%) 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% prefer to work remotely full-time, 29% want to attend in person full-time, and 27% prefer to go to the office between one and four days per week.
Even within the hybrid work category, there are many different ways to implement hybrid policies, and the data clearly shows that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that satisfies everyone, so flexibility and clear communication are key. Unclear expectations are causing 42% 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 unique 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% 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%), feeling disengaged (66%), missing visual cues like facial expressions (63%), and not being able to see the whiteboard (63%).
Despite these frustrations, only 38% 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.”
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Managers Should Be More Worried About Burnout
One surprising finding is that only 1 in 10 managers (11%) are concerned about employee burnout, despite the fact that 1 in 4 workers (25%) changed jobs during the pandemic’s Great Resignation and 87% 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%) working remotely from inside actual closets at least some of the time.
Nearly 2/3 (63%) 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% 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% more than their female counterparts.
In the face of these challenges, many people relied on self-care methods to cope, such as working outdoors, which 24% of remote employees chose to do. Others turned to pets for comfort, with more than half of remote workers (51%) adopting animals during the pandemic.
Offering the flexibility of hybrid work is one way that employers can prevent burnout in the longer term. About 82% of employees say having the option to work remotely at least part-time post-pandemic would improve their mental health and 3/4 (75%) 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%), who said they would quit their jobs in that situation.
Redefining the Future of Work to Be More Inclusive
Our work habits have never changed and evolved as quickly as they have in recent years. As we navigate the next normal, it’s becoming clear that the old way of working never actually worked well for many people, including caregivers, those with disabilities, those living far from major cities, and more. Only 1/3 (36%) of employees believe the office is the best place to do individual work, and 90% say they are just as productive — or even more so — when working remotely. Employers are now faced with a unique opportunity to create a totally new world of work that is more productive and inclusive for everyone.
New remote work options caused an exodus from major cities and revitalized the economies of smaller cities and towns, with more than 1 in 4 (27%) remote employees relocating during the pandemic. In the midst of a childcare crisis and a time when humans are yearning for safe connection with others, it’s not surprising to hear that 86% of people who worked remotely during the pandemic said this flexibility allows them to better support their families and be present with them. The theme of flexibility has already begun expanding to concepts like the 4-day work week, with 87% of employees expressing interest in the trend.
While many employers still have yet to invest in appropriate technology that supports companies’ current hybrid work needs, the endless possibilities for the future have already opened minds to the next frontier of collaboration. As some tech giants go all in on the metaverse, employees are intrigued by emerging technologies in the workplace too, with 56% interested in exploring holograms and another 56% open to using virtual reality (VR) to collaborate.
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