Top Workplace Trend Number 1

Top Ten Work Trends Quarterly Updates

A diverse group of SIOP members are serving as Trend Champions for the people-related work trends that SIOP members collaboratively predicted to be the most impactful in 2023. Each Trend Champion has expertise in and professional passion for their trend subject. SIOP appreciates their service to the profession in providing quarterly updates on their chosen topics.

Find the full list of topics and links to the other Top 10 Work Trends here

Trend #1: Re-Thinking the Employee Experience of Remote Workers

 

2023 1st Quarter Update

Recent research suggests that remote work is stabilizing at about 25% of overall days worked – at least in the United States. While this is down significantly over the last year, it is still 5 times higher than pre-pandemic levels. Technology, finance, and professional services employees are the most likely to be working remotely, and those who are at home (2-3 days a week) say that it’s “worth” somewhere between 6-11% of their pay. That’s a lot.

While the value of remote work to employees has been widely touted, leaders who are responsible for the performance of organizations have been much more mixed in their responses. One of the reasons for this is that it is taking a long time to see the real outcome and impact of such widespread adoption of remote work. Leaders often “feel” things are less productive or effective but have had very little real evidence of that being the case.

Some commentators are now starting to identify and discuss genuine risks and challenges that need to be addressed in the employee experience if remote work is going to be sustainable. For example, there is some evidence that people are less ambitious and driven than before the pandemic; they see work as a less important component of their life (or at least less central to it). In a recent survey of 3000 workers, close to 40% said that work had become less important to them in the past three years. More than a third said that their career ambitions had declined. This has implication for workforce productivity, which has been declining as well as for talent processes like leadership and succession pipelines.

If remote work is so good for engagement and happiness, then why would people feel this way? The reasons behind this are complicated but are likely to be connected to poorly managed remote work, leading to burnout and disengagement. On a personal level, people may also feel less social and peer pressure to exhibit drive and ambition as they are around colleagues in person less often and working at home in their pyjamas – softening their desire to get ahead and compete with others. In many ways, the experience of remote work is simply less motivating, even if it is more satisfying. This is a risk that needs to be managed carefully and thoughtfully with better work and experience design.

Perhaps even more seriously, some employees attribute part of the blame for the poor risk management at Silicon Valley Bank to an increase in remote work. The financial press has been asking questions about the risk management practices at the bank and whether the lack of in-person interactions made it difficult to ensure that everyone was being listened to and that all the potential risks were well understood. While it is difficult to know explicitly, research on risk culture tells us that psychological safety and leadership behaviours are critical – and that employees will often look for social proof to figure out what behaviours are appropriate in uncertain situations. If employees are remote – how can they observe these behaviours?

The point I want to make here is that “re-thinking the employee experience” is not just about adding fancy technology to keep people connected and productive, or dreaming up fun virtual rituals to enable people to have shared cultural experiences that keep people motivated (both useful by the way); it also means thinking carefully about the risks that remote work introduces into organizations and designing a meaningful employee experience that helps to mitigate those challenges.

Champion: Lewis Garrad

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Lewis is Partner and business leader for Mercer’s Singapore Career business. Voted a top 101 Global Future of Work Influencer, he is regular contributor to publications such as the Harvard Business Review and speaker in the areas of people science, HR data, employee engagement and leadership. In his commercial work, he leads a team of economist, social scientists, engineers and consultants to help clients and customers implement data-driven reward, talent, leadership and employee engagement programs to improve organizational performance.