The Empire State building out the window of a meeting room in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. As return-to-office plans accelerate, with hopes they will stick this time, many bosses are embracing new setups. Photographer: Amir Hamja/Bloomberg
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o how are those return to office mandates going—at least for those returning full time? Not so well. A new survey from Future Forum, a research consortium on the future of work, found that non-executives are nearly twice as likely as top managers to work from the office every day, and their work-life balance scores are now 40% worse than executive respondents.
There was also a sharp divide between employee experience scores for workers who have full-time in-office mandates and those who have hybrid or remote options. Declines were twice as steep for work-life balance and 1.5 times worse on stress and anxiety, the survey found.
Those numbers are jarring—but not altogether surprising, given all we know about how much work, and our expectations about it, are changing. The interesting thing, to me, is what companies are doing to try and avoid those problems. I regularly speak with CEOs, heads of human resources and other future of work experts, curious about the practices and tactics they’re using to navigate this new world of hybrid work that’s both so compelling to so many and yet littered with potential hiccups.
HPE, for instance, which officially reopened its offices April 4 and where 80% of its workforce is designated as hybrid, with no mandate for the number of days they should be in the office, is spelling out collaborative occasions where onsite meetings are needed—and otherwise trying to draw people to the office through new amenities like make-at-home meal kits, large outdoor screens for movies and a pop-up “makerspace” with equipment like 3-D printers for workers to dabble in their own projects or attend workshops with peers.
At software maker Atlassian, cofounder Scott Farquhar (and No. 123 on our 2022 billionaires list) expects employees who don’t live near one of the company’s offices will ultimately travel about four times a year for what he calls “intentional togetherness,” not calling it “working” because he foresees the time being used not for work, but for “building social bonds.” In the past year, he says, 44% of its new hires in the U.S. live two or more hours from one of its main office locations.
One other interesting finding in Future Forum’s survey: With all the talk about RTO and the location of work, we may be missing that what people really care about is when, not where. Future Forum’s survey found that while 79% of respondents say they want location flexibility, 94% say they want to be able to choose the hours they work. For more on the survey and ideas from companies like HPE and Atlassian, read more here.
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