The COVID-19 Pandemic: Where Are We One Year Later? (Employee Experience And Return To Work)
One year ago, COVID-19 was declared a global health emergency, impacting all sectors virtually overnight. With the pandemic hitting this benchmark, Forrester analysts are available for interviews to discuss how specific sectors have been impacted these past months worldwide, as well as what 2021 will look like as we keep adjusting to this “new normal.”
The below insights explore the state of employee experience (EX) and what potential return to work scenarios look like:
Analyst Andrew Hewitt:
- “Despite the difficulty of 2020, there were a few silver linings for companies. First, while we expect most companies to pursue a hybrid work model in the future, the majority of companies found that remote work was doable, at least in the short term. For example, just 28% of US workers at home during the pandemic said they are not as productive at home, and over half of US employees said they have the flexibility in work schedule and obligations to take care of family members should they need to. While there are still many companies that are concerned over remote worker productivity, in general most companies were successful at keeping employees productive while at home.
- “Another silver lining was around mental health. While 33% of US employees at home say their mental health suffered because of the pandemic and related challenges, many companies have gotten much more comfortable addressing mental health needs in the workplace, offering support services for working parents, and improving access to health services like counselors, all for free.
- “While the overall experience with remote work has been positive, there still persists many stigmas and challenges related to remote work. Despite most employees saying they are more productive from home, companies still don’t have the leadership and management experience to handle remote work, so this remains a challenge going into 2021, especially as companies start to bring people back to the office. How will managers ensure that remote and office workers are treated equally, given access to projects, promotions, and other opportunities? Companies also still have doubts as to whether they can innovate in a remote work model. The prevailing wisdom is that innovation slows down with remote working, but that’s not necessarily true. If organizations don’t provide enough resources for employees to innovate, then yes, innovation will suffer, but a fully-developed anywhere work strategy makes room and prioritizes innovation.
- “There are a number of key priorities for organizations going into 2021. The first and foremost is rethinking how they use office space. Will they bring people back en masse? Will it be a hybrid scenario, and if so, should they decrease real estate and invest in new layouts like hot desking? Secondly, they’re thinking through the ramifications of a hybrid workforce, specifically what level of investment they should make to reimburse or provide a stipend for full-time remote workers, and whether that is different from a hybrid worker. And, of course, the third area is technology. Companies are starting to prioritize technology investments like Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), modern device management, and mobility tools to enable employees to work from anywhere. At the same time, they’re also trying to improve collaboration capabilities with tools like digital whiteboarding.”
Principal Analyst Katy Tynan:
- “We expect that the shift to remote working will at some point begin to shift back towards a more hybrid approach. Leaders at all levels are just settling in to understanding how to lead and engage teams in a fully remote environment, and the new hybrid model will be different from what they are used to now, as well as different from what they were doing before. So we expect that organizations will need to focus on their frontline leaders and craft an intentional strategy in order to successfully navigate that transition.
- “We continue to live in an environment of significant uncertainty and transformation. The pandemic is one example but there are other systemic risks that are continuing to impact organizations as they think about how they do business. There is a need for leaders to create a culture of change resilience that helps their organizations respond more adaptively to this continuously fluid state of change.
- “In the HR technology space, we continue to see significant complexity in terms of the ability of organizations to see and understand their workforce. Contingent labor lives in a different system from full-time employees. There has been explosion in the number and variety of point solutions including performance management, wellness, engagement, talent acquisition, learning, and more. In order for leaders to have visibility into their total workforce, including FTE, contingent, vendors, bots, and all of the other resources that do ‘work’ in the organization, these systems need to be integrated in meaningful ways that allow the organization to make better decisions related to their people.”
Principal Analyst David Johnson:
- “The shift to remote work through the pandemic got organizations moving on the basics for their employees to be able to function in a remote working environment, which is big, but they haven’t yet cracked the code on the underlying factors that lead to burnout or on replacing the some of the elements of a healthy workplace social environment that they lost. The strongest predictor of burnout in Forrester’s data is lack of recognition for hard work and accomplishment, and the second strongest is organizational changes that affect employees have them feeling down. Working remotely makes both of those things worse as it’s harder for employees to feel uniquely seen and valued for their contributions, and remote workers are also more likely to feel less visible and under-represented in organizational changes, relative to their office-based counterparts. These two factors can easily combine to create a sense of hopelessness and intensify feelings of burnout, without deliberate attention to counteract them. One of the things we’re doing is helping organizations understand the key elements of engagement, burnout, and collaboration better so that they can create a more holistic anywhere work strategy with a greater chance of long-term success.
- “For 2021, the first thing we’re recommending that organizations do is get clear about what their intentions are for their anywhere work plus office-based work mix. And from those decisions, develop a clear, holistic strategy for what their employee experience will look and feel like that includes technology, culture, leadership, and social environment factors. The strategy should be informed with organizational behavior and psychological research for best results.
- “Employee experience (EX) peaks when employees can make progress every day toward the work that they believe is most important, and so their efforts should be focused on creating an environment that’s conducive to them knowing what’s most important and feeling like they have the resources both within themselves and within their organization to do it.”
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