What do employees want in returning to the office?
Business owners often assume they know what their employees want due to a dangerous judgment error termed the false consensus effect. This problematic mental blindspot causes us to perceive others—especially teammates—as sharing our beliefs. That’s often not the case.
The false consensus effect is one of over 100 misleading mental patterns that researchers in behavioral economics and cognitive neuroscience call cognitive biases. Fortunately, by learning how to defeat the harmful impact of these dangerous judgment errors, we can make the wisest and most profitable decisions.
To address the false consensus effect, turn to objective data that doesn’t rely on gut feelings or assumptions. I’ve examined insights gleaned from several recent in-depth surveys of employees on post-pandemic remote work (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).
Here are 10 key conclusions of a meta-analysis comparing all of these studies:
- Over 66% of employees who worked remotely during the pandemic want and expect to work from home half the time or more permanently, while 20% want to work remotely full-time.
- Over 40% would leave their current job if they didn’t have the option of remote work for two to three days per week.
- Over 25% plan to leave their jobs, especially those who rate their company cultures as “C” or lower.
- Over 40% of all employees, especially younger ones, feel concerned about their career progress if they worked from home.
- Most employees see telework and the flexibility it provides as a key benefit, and are willing to sacrifice substantial earnings for it.
- Employees are significantly more productive on average when working from home.
- Over 75% of all employees will feel happier and more engaged, be willing to go the extra mile, feel less stressed, and have more work-life balance with permanent opportunity for two to three days of telework.
- Over 50% of all employees feel overworked and burned out; while more than 75% experience “Zoom fatigue” and want fewer meetings.
- Employees need funding for home offices and equipment, but no more than 25% of companies provided such funding so far.
- Over 60% of all employees report poor virtual communication and collaboration as their biggest challenge with remote work, and many want more training in these areas.
What additional research says
Other research confirms this information. Consider a survey comparing productivity of in-person vs. remote workers during the first six months of stay-at-home orders, March through August 2020, to the same six-month period in 2019. Employees showed a more than 5% increase in productivity over this period. Another study surveying 800 employers reported that 94% found that remote workers showed higher or equal productivity than before the pandemic. Non-survey research similarly shows significant productivity gains for remote workers during the pandemic.
Some may wonder whether these productivity gains are limited to the context of the pandemic. Fortunately, research shows that after a forced period of work from home, if workers are given the option to keep working from home, those who choose to do so experience even greater productivity gains than in the initial forced period.
An academic paper from the University of Chicago provides further evidence of why working at home will stick:
Researchers found that working at home proved a much more positive experience, for employers and employees alike, than either anticipated. That led employers to report a willingness to continue work-from-home after the pandemic.
Average workers spent over 14 hours and US$600 to support work-from home setups. In turn, companies made large-scale investments in back-end IT facilitating remote work. Some paid for home office/equipment for employees. Furthermore, remote work technology has improved over this time. Therefore, both workers and companies will be more invested in telework after the pandemic.
Stigma around telework has greatly decreased. Such normalization of work from home makes it a much more viable choice for employees.
The paper shows that employees perceive telework as an important perk: On average, they value it as 8% of their salary. The authors also find that most employers plan to move to a hybrid model after the pandemic, having employees come in about half the time. Given the higher productivity resulting from remote work, the authors conclude that the post-pandemic economy will see about a six percent productivity boost.
Don’t assume that you know what your employees want when they return to the office. Cognitive biases such as the false consensus effect mislead us into thinking others in our group share our beliefs when that is often not the case. Surveys and research show that new habits, norms and values picked up during the pandemic will significantly impact the post-COVID workplace. A combination of mainly hybrid and some remote work is our future.
Defend yourself from mental blindspots so you can make the best strategic decisions after the pandemic.
Contributed by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, an internationally-renowned thought leader in future-proofing and cognitive bias risk management. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-proofing consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts, which specializes in helping forward-looking leaders avoid dangerous threats and missed opportunities. He is the best-selling author of Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters, and his newest book is and Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage.