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Workers expect employers ‘to let them down’ when it comes to long-term remote work

February 25, 2021, 1:15 PM UTC

As the COVID-19 pandemic rolls into its second year, many in the American workforce have grown accustomed to calling their homes their offices. And they’re starting to like it, too. 

Some companies—Twitter, Slack, Spotify, Zillow, and Novartis, to name a few—have even announced that they’ll allow employees to permanently work from home, if they so desire. But as vaccinations roll out and the country begins to see the light at the end of a very long coronavirus tunnel, many others are trying to figure out what to do and how to plan a return to business as usual. 

This is a once in a millennium opportunity to rethink work “for the way work should be, not the way it’s always been,” said Deborah Lovich, senior partner and managing director of Boston Consulting Group, during Fortune’s Reimagine Work Summit on Wednesday.  

Brian Elliott, vice president of the Future Forum at Slack, has been conducting research on what that might mean, and he found that between the third and fourth quarters of 2020, there was a shift in what employees want and how they function. The lack of a commute and integration of work/life balance that comes with being at home during the day appeals to the workforce, he said.

“What we’ve seen pretty consistently is that people’s work/life balance is better when they’re working remotely,” he said. The ability to balance work stress is also better, and productivity while working remotely is higher than it was at the office. 

A sense of belonging, often found through chatting with coworkers and through in-person events, has also shifted for the first time, becoming positive in the last quarter of 2020. “Overall, people…were better working remotely than they were in the office,” he said. 

That doesn’t mean that it’s time to break the lease to that office space just yet. While Slack found that 83% of people surveyed did not want to go back full-time, only 20% wanted to remain entirely remote. The vast majority of the workforce, nearly 65%, prefer some sort of hybrid office/home life. They’d like to go in for events, meetings, and creative kickoffs and then go home to hunker down on work. 

There’s also a disconnect, according to Lovich. Most employees want to work in a hybrid way, but they’re expecting to have to eventually return to a full-time office environment. Research by Boston Consulting Group found that half of all employees expect to be “fully colocated” in the future, though ideally, that same percentage would like to work in an office part of the time. 

“They’re expecting their employers and leaders to let them down,” said Lovich. But when you look at executives and managers, they also prefer a hybrid model. “The importance here is to communicate and let your teams know that you also see value in this and want to help retain that value.”

Communication is key, but so is trust, said Lovich. When you correlate trust between employers and employees with productivity, you see the importance, she said. Workers who trust their colleagues to do their work remotely led to a 50% increase in productivity, she found.