What do employees want?

Knowledge workers want a “Multiverse of Work.”

If there is one clear message from knowledge workers about the future of their work, it is that they want the best of both worlds: The flexibility to work from anywhere and a place to gather with their colleagues.

Workers asserted the desire and expectation of frequent future remote work relatively early in the pandemic, which was revealed by a variety of industry studies. For example, the consultancy Global Workplace Analytics (GWA) conducted a survey of nearly 3,000 global employees in the spring of 2020. They discovered that more than three out of four (76 percent) wish to work from home at least once weekly on a go-forward basis. This would represent a dramatic increase from the 31 percent who did so before the COVID-19 pandemic.6 Other surveys produced similar results.

...59% of workers would only consider a new job that allows a choice of location.

There is also clearly a degree of passion behind this preference. In the 2020 edition of its annual State of Remote Work report, technology provider Owl Labs found that nearly half of workers say they would not return to a job that did not allow them to work remotely after the pandemic, with a quarter at least claiming a willingness to take a pay cut to continue doing so.7 Furthermore, according to Gartner’s 2021 Digital Workplace Experience Survey, 59 percent of workers would only consider a new job that allows a choice of location.8 And this is not simply a pandemic-driven phenomenon: According to Gallup’s landmark State of the American Workplace report (released in January 2020, before the onset of COVID-19 in the US), 54 percent of office workers would leave their job for one that offered more a flexible work arrangement.9

But while such findings have captured media attention, remote work is only a piece of what knowledge workers want. The same GWA survey cited above reports that only 16 percent of workers want to work remotely all the time. In fact, the data from this and other surveys suggest that, on average, knowledge workers prefer to split time roughly evenly between remote and onsite work, spending the equivalent of 2-3 days at each during a normal week. It is possible that current demands for the right to work flexibly will moderate as the pandemic recedes, but it seems likely that keeping talent happy in the 2020s will require supporting work in a wider variety of locations than in the past—what we call a “Multiverse of Work.”

The GWA survey reports that only 16% of workers want to work remotely all the time.

Leading employers across industries have already recognized this and implemented incarnations of the multiverse that best suits their needs. For example, tech giant Microsoft says it will treat part-time remote work as “standard for most roles” going forward.10 Software-as-a-service firm Salesforce expects that most employees will be in the office 1-3 days per week and will expand its recruiting efforts “beyond traditional city centers” to accommodate remote-first talent.11 And the global financial institution Standard Chartered Group recently cut a deal with IWG (parent company of Regus) to allow its employees to utilize any of the flex-office providers locations for the whole of 2021.12

These companies have been quite explicit about the role employee sentiment is playing as they develop strategies that embrace a multiverse. Tanuj Kapilashrami, Head of HR at Standard Chartered, explained her firm’s rationale to Bisnow in precisely these terms. “We ran three surveys last year, and the data was very clear,” she said. “More than 75 percent of our colleagues globally wanted to work flexibly at least 50 percent of the time.” And, like the workers in the surveys cited above, they still wanted a place to gather: Less than 10 percent wanted to be remote full time. For Kapilashrami, the lesson was clear. “It showed us we needed to design the future based around what our colleagues wanted.”13

"We learned that nearly half of our employees want to come in only a few times per month, but also that 80% of employees want to maintain a connection to a physical space.”

Salesforce President & Chief People Officer Brent Hyder also cited employee feedback in an article on the company website. “Employee feedback has guided our re-opening strategy and how we’ll work going forward. We learned that nearly half of our employees want to come in only a few times per month, but also that 80 percent of employees want to maintain a connection to a physical space.” They are, he says, “hungry for the connection, camaraderie and innovation that come from gathering in-person.”14

Microsoft is yet another firm building its workplace around the desires of its employees. In March of 2021, the company released its own perspective on hybrid work, calling it “the next great disruption.” One conclusion: “Flexible work is here to stay, and the talent landscape has fundamentally shifted.”15 In other words, talent demands a Multiverse of Work, and that is what employers will provide.


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