- Most U.S. respondents in a recent Mercer survey, approximately 83%, said their companies are considering implementing flexible work at a greater scale than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Asked which specific changes are being considered to implement flexible work, 73% of respondents planned to evolve culturally to implement a hybrid work environment that includes both in-office and remote work. Forty-two percent planned to change managerial and employee training to focus on leading and operating in a virtual or blended environment. Fewer than one-third of respondents said investments in virtual collaboration technology would be a focus.
- Respondents did perceive obstacles to their companies' flexibility, however, with 66% indicating that leaders' and managers' attitudes and skills toward managing a flexible workforce would be a concern moving forward. More than half said maintaining existing culture would be a challenge, while about 42% were concerned about inconsistent application of flexibility across their organizations.
Remote work may be considered a new norm for organizations during the pandemic, but a move to remote work arrangements doesn't necessarily indicate that an organization has fully embraced the concept of flexible work.
Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University, said in a June 29 statement that an estimated 42% of the U.S. labor force was working from full-time during the pandemic. "So, by sheer numbers, the U.S. is a working-from-home economy," Bloom said. "Almost twice as many employees are working from home as at work."
Other research shows that an employer's approach to implementing remote work and similar forms of flexibility impacts overall perception of an employer's COVID-19 response. For example, an eight-week survey of workers earlier this year by ADP found that respondents' stress levels, productivity and work-life balance had generally begun to stabilize going into the first weeks of May. Moreover, 60% of respondents reported satisfaction with their employers' responses to COVID-19, but more than 60% of those who were highly satisfied with those responses "believed their company was putting people first," ADP said.
Certain worker segments may also support the idea of organizations re-examining their approaches to the workplace post-pandemic. A survey of global white-collar workers by staffing firm The Adecco Group found that respondents generally were in favor of hybrid work arrangements that allow for both telework and on-site work. Respondents also supported the concept of "results-driven" work over the concept of working set hours.
Flexibility may especially appeal to groups of workers like those who are caregivers. HR Dive recently reported on practices for supporting caregivers, particularly those coordinating around school re-openings, including recording team meetings; coordinating communications to ensure important information is shared in a centralized place; and flexibly scheduling certain programming. Flexible work may also improve inclusivity for certain groups of workers.
Other than the concerns cited in the Mercer survey, employers may also need to consider broader inequalities with respect to the ability of underrepresented groups to work remotely. There may also be lingering concerns among some workers that their decision to use flexible work options may be looked upon negatively by company leaders.