Does flexible work...
Experiencing a Multiverse of Work boosts individual and corporate performance.
It is one thing if talented knowledge workers want to spend a significant amount of time working remotely while also needing access to a corporate office; it is something different if this arrangement actually makes them better at what they do. It turns out that this is indeed the case: Working in a multiverse increases organizational performance. Standard Chartered’s Kapilashrami has likened its power to the impact of disruptive technology. “In two-or three-years’ time,” she said, “not adopting hybrid working will be like not adopting email 20 years ago. If you understand and manage the technology well, it can be a huge boost to people’s productivity.”26
“In two-or three-years’ time, not adopting hybrid working will be like not adopting email 20 years ago. If you understand and manage the technology well, it can be a huge boost to people’s productivity.”
Employee engagement Work by Gallup offers strong support for the multiverse as a performance enhancer. From time to time, the company conducts meta-analyses on the employee research it performs on behalf of clients. This research is based on Gallup’s proprietary measure of “employee engagement,” a composite metric built from 12 survey-based inputs. In its 2017 review, the firm evaluated the performance of business units based on their percentage of engaged employees. Compared to those in the bottom quartile, those in the top quartile experienced:27
- 21 percent greater profitability
- 20 percent higher sales
- 17 percent higher productivity
- 41 percent lower absenteeism
- 24-59 percent lower employee turnover (depending on an industry’s structural turnover)
These figures are striking; investing in employee engagement generates big returns. And additional data from Gallup suggests that this investment should include supporting a variety of workplaces for employees.
The firm’s 2020 State of the American Workplace report revealed that engagement is highest (36-41 percent) among employees who work both remotely and onsite. On the other hand, engagement was lowest (30 percent) among employees who either always or never worked remotely.28 Considering the differences in business outcomes noted above, even small increases in engagement resulting from a Multiverse of Work will have a big impact on performance.
Meeting Needs It is intuitive to believe that a “best of both worlds” arrangement of flexible work would produce the best outcome by making employees happier. But why might this be true? We have developed a framework for evaluating the contribution the Multiverse of Work makes to a high-performing workforce based on psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. This framework is explored in detail in Avison Young’s Productivity, the Workplace, and COVID-19 report. 29
Stated briefly, Maslow posited different levels of human needs, starting with basic physiological needs (like food and shelter) and progressing through additional levels, including safety, belongingness, esteem, and ultimately to self-actualization. It is at this apex that human beings are able to maximize achievement and fulfillment. Conceptually, a similar hierarchy can be applied to work-related needs.
In the 2020s, practically all basic-level workplace needs can be met remotely. Tremendous portable processing power, secure cloud data storage, and especially video conferencing are all relatively recent technological advancements that place many home offices on par with corporate ones when it comes to the bare necessities of knowledge work (although as we have seen above, this is not always the case).
But even for workers who thrive at home, the relative importance of the corporate workplace becomes apparent when progressing up the hierarchy of workplace needs. Consider the need for belonging as it relates to work. The social aspect of work is not replicable by remote working technology to nearly the same degree as other aspects – even for younger generations who have grown up in an era of electronic communication. Indeed, in the Gensler survey referenced above, 74 percent of respondents said that interacting with colleagues is what they miss most about the office. Tellingly, 54 percent cited socializing specifically—the same percentage citing scheduled or impromptu in-person meetings.30
But when it comes to establishing and deepening meaningful relationships—or “belonging” in Maslow’s hierarchy—embodied, physical proximity will always be superior.
Optimizing Engagement Human relationships are also crucial to employee engagement. Gallup has identified two distinct elements of engagement related to building trust with coworkers: One with respect to peers, and another between employees and their supervisors. Here again, technology now supports interpersonal interactions better than ever before, especially when it comes to maintaining preexisting connections. But when it comes to establishing and deepening meaningful relationships—or “belonging” in Maslow’s hierarchy—embodied, physical proximity will always be superior.
A final element of engagement related to the workplace is public recognition for a job well done. (Conceptually, this maps closely to Maslow’s category of esteem, the second-highest in his hierarchy.) While acknowledging excellent performance can be done electronically, the experience is not the same as an ovation, a physical display, a casual congratulation from a co-worker at the coffee machine, or some other visible mechanism for recognition that might regularly happen in an office. There are many ways to foster and invest in employee engagement, but these, in particular, are easier to do in a holistic manner at a corporate workplace. It may well be that they account for some of the positive difference in engagement between those who work remotely a few days per week versus those who are 100-percent remote.
26. https://www.bisnow.com/london/news/office/one-of-the-worlds-biggest-banks-explains-why-its-moving-to-a-hybrid-work-model-107965 27. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236366/right-culture-not-employee-satisfaction.aspx 28. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/283985/working-remotely-effective-gallup-research-says-yes.aspx 29. https://avison-young.foleon.com/uk-research-2020/productivity-the-workplace-and-covid-19/home/ 30. https://www.gensler.com/uploads/document/695/file/Gensler-US-Work-From-Home-Survey-2020-Briefing-1.pdf