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Getting hybrid work right: What employees are saying

New research reveals what employees want from their postpandemic workplace—and how companies can get started with hybrid transformations.

The COVID-19 crisis challenged some existing norms and barriers that in the past had kept employees from working remotely. Now employees would like their organizations to adopt more flexible, hybrid working models, and many executives say that a mixture of remote and on-site work will become far more common. After that, the details get hazy. During a McKinsey Live webinar, partners Bryan Hancock and Brooke Weddle discussed the latest McKinsey research on what employees want vis-à-vis remote versus onsite work and what leaders might consider as they plan or implement a return to the office.

Communication gap

In January, 64 percent of the respondents to a global McKinsey survey of more than 5,000 full-time employees said they would like to work from home one to four days a week. And, although organizations may have indicated a general intention to embrace hybrid work, 68 percent of the survey respondents said they had yet to receive from their organization any detailed vision of what it will really look like.

Clear and inspirational communication from company leaders is critical to the success of the workforce’s reentry. Nearly half the respondents who had not received communication said that the lack of information was causing them concern or anxiety and they had some symptoms of burnout. For many organizations, productivity may have risen last year, but, if leaders don’t address the sources of employee anxiety, pandemic-style productivity gains may prove to be unsustainable in the future.

Employee preferences

What steps can organizations take to build and communicate a more detailed vision of postpandemic work?

First, leaders can address employee fears by—creating clarity about work hours and other employer expectations, providing guidelines and organizational norms that help create a common culture and build shared trust, and providing the right digital tools and training. Employees also said they want leaders to listen and respond to them, and they would like built-in opportunities to make small, often spontaneous, connections with their colleagues.

In addition, because employee experiences during the pandemic varied so much, all employees don’t have the same preferences. Therefore, it is vital for organizations to tailor work arrangements to different segments of their workforce.

Leaders also might want to consider:

  • Recognizing the human element of the strategy, including shifting trends and preferences.
  • Communicating the reason behind policies. Employees want to know why decisions are made.
  • Listening, testing, and adjusting. Leading companies constantly make adjustments as they find out what is and isn’t working.
  • Making the workplace magical. Workers need a reason to get up, get dressed, and make the commute.
  • Overhauling the company culture or creating a new one based on lessons learned in the pandemic.

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For more on this topic, please watch the webinar recording, listen to the podcast “Culture in the hybrid workplace” and read the articles “What employees are saying about the future of remote work” and “What executives are saying about the future of hybrid work.”

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