Business, workforce disagree on future of work

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There appears to be no consensus among business leaders and employees as to what the future of work should look like.

According to the latest research report compiled by Dimension Data parent company NTT, employer and employee attitudes towards the future of work vary significantly.

The voice of the employee (VOE) data shows that when offered a choice of at-home, hybrid, or in-office working arrangements, employees are relatively evenly split between the three: 30%, 30% and 39%, respectively.

Conversely, 81% of organisations believe employees prefer to work from home, compared to just 30% noted above.

“Currently, the narrative is all about remote working – but the reality of employees’ needs is much more complicated, and any failure to accurately assess and respond to that fact presents a serious risk to organisations,” says Alex Bennett, global senior vice-president, GTM Solutions at NTT.

“These are not mild preferences: we found that work-life balance and commute times are now the two biggest factors people look at when deciding where to work, and so performing well on workforce and workplace strategy will be a real competitive advantage.”

The 2021 edition of the Global Workplace Report provides insight into the future of work, as businesses around the world prepare for a post-pandemic reality. It’s based on 1 146 interviews – of which 150 were from the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region – across 23 countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic overhauled many of life’s daily activities, including the way of doing business. Organisations scurried to introduce remote working policies, as people across the globe were forced to substitute in-person meetings with virtual networking sessions, from corporate meetings, to funerals and educational activities, in efforts to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

This shift to an always-on, online way of work has led to many people experiencing screen time fatigue, or what is commonly termed “Zoom fatigue”.

As a result, the report found near-universal agreement that remote working has introduced difficulties, with 88% of respondents saying it has challenged organisational performance, and 83% saying it has been challenging for employees.

Meanwhile, 67% of organisations in MEA say employee wellbeing has deteriorated over the course of the pandemic.

Compared to operations staff, CEOs are 20 percentage points more likely to believe their organisation is very effective at managing working hours, 28 points more likely to believe they are effective at preventing burnout, and 41 points more likely to be very satisfied with their organisation’s employee experience capabilities.

This awareness gap, according to the report, mirrors a serious lack of employee confidence, with only 38% saying their employer fully values their health and wellbeing, and only 23% saying they are very happy working for their employer.

The report also highlights that 57% of employees will now select an employer based on work/life balance.

In terms of data priorities, 58% of businesses report VOE being a top focus, third only to workplace analytics at 67%. However, just 45% of organisations have structured VOE programmes, and 42% employ real-time sentiment analysis, compared to 51% utilising employee surveys.

“I would look at this as a call to shift our thinking from being about actions to being about outcomes,” states Bennett. “What’s important is not what we do to improve the workplace, but how it actually benefits the workforce – and an organisation cannot know that without a mature approach to measuring employees’ sentiment.

“Surprisingly, two-thirds of employees say they’re not yet equipped with all the tools they need to work from home, and just 45% of organisations say they are strongly satisfied that office spaces are ready for hybrid working.

“Nonetheless, 80% of organisations are engaged in reshaping their office space over the next 12 months to foster an environment of innovation and social connection. Clearly, there’s awareness on some level that immature workforce strategies will lead to employee discontent, and that work should be led by what people actually need.”

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