Gallup predicts that 2024 will bring a relationship reset between employees and employers.
Despite the headlines suggesting that the return to office is back in fashion, Gallup’s data shows that work location trends have actually stabilized since mid-2022.
As things stand, just 20% of employees spend their week working fully on-site – this is down from 60% in 2019.
These figures are confirmed by Stanford University’s Nick Bloom – a leading remote work researcher who was one of the 12 HR experts asked to share their 2024 workplace predictions with the Flex Index for a new Flex Report.
Bloom’s 2024 Flex Report prediction included the fact that working from home is five times more common than it was five years ago in 2019.
Bloom noted that this stabilization of remote work numbers will continue in 2024 – he described it as the “year of the pancake” – and that 2025 will see a steady climb in remote work as the technology finally catches up with employee needs.
This is explained by NYU Stern’s Aprit Gupta’s 2024 Flex Report prediction: employers are recognizing the benefits of location flexibility, notably employee preference, satisfaction and productivity, plus being able to reduce office costs.
Lattice’s CPO Cara Allamano added that in 2024 employers will realize once and for all that returning to the office is not a quick fix for their productivity and performance challenges.
Atlassian’s VP of Team Anywhere, Annie Dean, agreed; she predicted that: “By the end of 2024, executives will be forced to admit their return to office mandates did not improve productivity.”
Instead, as Gallup notes, employers need to get very intentional about how they design their workplaces for the long-term.
Gartner’s 2024 predictions also talk about the “cost of work crisis” where employees know how much they spend – financially, but also in terms of time and energy – in going to the office, and they need to feel like commuting is worth their while.
If they want their people to return to the office, MillerKnoll’s VP of global research Ryan Anderson wrote in the Flex Report, then organizations need to realize that the office is not about individual productivity, but about community, collaboration and connection.
Gartner adds that organizations also need to share the tangible and intangible costs of office work – this could be by upping their caregiving benefits or introducing new financial wellbeing perks.
From hybrid to flexible work
By taking a bottom up – rather than a top down – approach to hybrid work – as Harvard Business School’s Raj Choudhury predicts will be in the case in the Flex Report – organizations (and employees alike) will begin to change their language around working location.
Rather than talking about hybrid or remote work, they will use the term ‘flexible work’. The focus is more on how people work, rather than where they are based, according to Atlassian’s Annie Dean.
in this context, a new class of worker is being created, noted futurist Julia Hobsbawn in the Flex Report.
In a pun on proletariat, she terms this new class the ‘flexetariat’; “flexibility and freedom to choose is a permanent shift for workers”, with gig work and side hustles playing a role in their 2024 perspectives.
According to Brian Elliot, co-founder of Future Forum, by the end of 2024, there will mounting evidence that flexibility is a competitive advantage. But, as he shared in the Flex Report, only if employers build a culture around trust of their workers.
Closing out the Flex Report 2024 predictions, BCG’s senior partner Deborah Lovich talked about how employers shouldn’t just think about performance when designing a flexible future of work.
They also need to focus on “joy” and fun because when people are happy at work, they are more likely to stay and work hard for you.
Joy is also top of mind for Atlassian’s Annie Dean, she called on employers to lean into being disruptive with technology, and focusing on the tools that are fun for workers to use.
AI has a role to play here, according to Lovich. It can take the administrative pain out of people’s daily lives, and help people focus more on the fun bits of work: collaborating and innovating.
But Gartner’s predictions focus on the need for HR to be closely involved in how AI, and specifically used at work. At the end of the day, trustworthy and responsible use of AI must be the priority.
HR success comes from better managers
While getting flexible work right for your organization and your people is a crucial part of driving higher employee engagement in 2024, Gallup’s research found that “how employees are managed has about four times as much influence on employee engagement and wellbeing as their work location”.
The issue is that managers are struggling the most – they are more likely than individual contributors to be disengaged, burnt out and job hunting. These problems then trickle down, and lead to under-performing, unhappy teams.
HR teams need to step up and support managers who are often caught in the middle “between aligning with new directives from leaders and meeting the changing expectations of their employees,” stated Gallup.
According to Gartner’s 2024 predictions, managers specifically need training on how to successfully resolve conflict at work.
Peter Aykens, chief of research in the Gartner HR practice, shared: “Managers who can effectively navigate and manage interpersonal conflict among employees will have an outsize positive impact on their organizations; the question is how many really feel trained and prepared to do so.”
So, HR leaders, do you want to win 2024?
Then now is the time to transition away from hybrid, and towards flexible work – and prioritize employee-centric, bottom up approaches.
Plus, HR must rethink and retool your management strategies to focus on the needs of workers, now and into the future.
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