The future of work: will remote work and collaboration become the norm?

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What will the future of work look like?

What is the future of work? Several years have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic caused our offices to be evacuated en masse, yet the question still remains – will workers return to the office, work remotely, or in some combination? The Economist suggests that the productivity of working from home may be wishful thinking. But in Forbes, leaders of what are now all-virtual companies say that productivity and culture are flourishing.

In May 2022, Integral asked US workers where they were working and where they preferred to work. As part of the second Integral Employee Activation Index*, we also gathered data on how employees feel about collaboration in the workplace.

Early in the pandemic, many people questioned the function of the office (me included). Would the global experiment of remote work make the office obsolete? And 19% of employees said the global trend they read about or saw in the news most often was “remote work/people working from home.”

Employees who work outside the home make up 59% of Index participants. However, this can be broken down a bit further, and we’ll get into the locations and schedules in a moment.

With the widespread adoption of remote work over the last few years, many companies have had to consider how the physical workspace affects the employee experience and to offer flexible work as an employee benefit (membership required). To hire and retain the best talent, a delicate balance must be struck between productivity, flexibility, and collaboration.

Data from the Employee Activation Index helps us draw conclusions about the workplace of the future and the employee experience.

Location of work

20% of respondents work at home most days. “Hybrid” was selected by 16% of respondents, defined as “in the business/office some days.” Furthermore, of the 59% of respondents who work outside of their home:

  • 28% are in an office setting most of the time
  • 10% work in a factory or on a manufacturing floor
  • 9% work in a retail environment
  • 8% spend most of their time in a co-working space
  • 4% are on the road/from the road

What does this data tell us about the future of work?

In the grand scheme of things, not much. However, it’s useful to know where employees spend their time working, because employers can determine the most effective channels and timing for communicating with their employees. An employee who spends most of their time on a manufacturing floor is less likely to respond to an email than an employee who spends most of their time working from their computer at home. Deskless workers, unfortunately, are frequently excluded from employee communications. According to a whitepaper from the Society for Health Care Strategy & Market Development, employee surveys and focus groups can be used to identify which communication channels would be most effective for a specific employee population.

How are your employees feeling – and why does it matter? Focus groups are one way to answer these questions. At Integral, we help teams uncover what’s working and what’s not by leading focus groups with our clients. Further, when employees share their pain points and gaps, we’re able to identify new ways of working for smoother operations and an improved employee experience. Additionally, employees are happier when they’re able to provide feedback and when there’s increased inclusion and collaboration.

Collaboration: the future of work

A study by RallyBright found that employees’ perceptions of inclusion and collaboration are influenced by their mode of work and level of comfort using collaborative software. A key point is, compared to in-person employees, those who work remotely or in a hybrid format perceive their workplaces as being more open and collaborative. These findings align with the Index findings: 56% of employees feel online collaboration can be just as effective as face-to-face collaboration and 53% believe their colleagues adapted well to working remotely.

Yet, the flip side of this is that 44% of employees find online collaboration lacking, and 47% think their colleagues have not adapted well to working remotely. What might that mean for your organization? Effective collaboration can be challenging. Your employees might need some TLC – Tender Loving Collaboration!

Tender Loving Collaboration

All hail CommTech tools! The RallyBright study also found that employees report that their workplaces are more open and collaborative when they are using collaboration technologies like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Drive, and others. 58% of Index respondents said their organization has increased the use of video conferences to enable meetings and collaboration. I’ve found connecting with colleagues virtually to be efficient and much to my surprise…fun! The “water cooler talk” is alive and well and it’s a joy to partake from the comfort of my home office or the university’s library.

CommTech tools simply set the stage for collaboration. Replacing the “Care” in the acronym TLC might do us some good. Simply put, collaboration cultivates caring relationships.

Collaboration is a way to nurture consistent communication that keeps employees at ease and develops a culture of caring. When employees are given the space to build connections and trust with each other, they’re more engaged, more efficient, and more invested in their shared success.

Workplace of the future

At Integral, we think the workplace of the future will be an environment with a wide range of options for employees in terms of workspace types, working hours, and office amenities. Of Index respondents:

  • 48% would prefer to work in person some of the time and remotely some of the time.
  • 47% would prefer to work remotely all the time.

Employee-first approach

Undeniably, an “employee first” approach is integral to every step of the employee lifecycle. Employee feedback is essential to business success. Likewise, we believe that for a business to succeed, it is essential to learn from employee feedback. If employees are seeking remote work or better tools for online collaboration, show some TLC. As The O’Jays sing, “you’ve got to give the people what they want!”**


*The Harris Poll conducted the second Integral Employee Activation Index in April – May 2022.

**Give the People What They Want hit #1 on the R&B charts in the summer of 1975. The bass line is fire and The O’Jays’ socially conscious lyrics are still relevant today.

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