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Virtualized Office-Centric Design is Hurting Employee Performance and Well-Being

Virtualized Office-Centric Design is Hurting Employee Performance and Well-Being

May 6, 2021
Using in-person design for remote working exacerbates fatigue which leads to employee performance decreasing by up to 33%, says Gartner study.

Companies need to take a closer look at virtual work design as it's damaging employees’ well-being and productivity, according to a  Gartner, Inc.  As working remotely, at least part of the time,  will likely remain the research concludes that "organizations must stop duplicating office-centric practices and shift to a human-centric model."

The structure that many companies used, which is to virtualize on-site practices, adding monitoring systems and increasing meetings, to adjust to the pandemic has caused increased fatigue among employees.

Two new phenomena have arisen due to remote working; "always-on" and virtual overload. With the increase of tracking systems watching employees, employees pretend to be working.  In fact, Gartner’s 2021 Hybrid Work Employee Survey of more than 2,400 knowledge workers in January 2021 reveals employees are nearly 2 times more likely to pretend to be working. And adding more meetings to keep communication channels open, is resulting in virtual overload – employees who now spend more time in meetings are 1.24 times more likely to feel emotionally drained from their work.

“Force-fitting a design created for a different environment exacerbates fatigue, and fatigue impacts many talent outcomes,” said Alexia Cambon, director in the Gartner HR practice. “When employees experience high levels of fatigue, employee performance decreases by up to 33%, feelings of inclusion decrease by up to 44% and employees are up to 54% less likely to remain with their employer.”

On-Site Versus Hybrid

Traditionally, work has been designed around employees who are co-located in a physical workplace. However, the Gartner survey revealed that only 4% of current hybrid or remote employees would choose to return fully on-site as their preferred option.

“Organizations have reacted to this crisis by recreating what they know, but rather than merely adapting principles from the on-site environment to the hybrid world, organizations need to unlearn old habits and fundamentally rethink work design,” said Jérôme Mackowiak, director, advisory, in the Gartner HR practice. “Forcing employees to go back to the on-site environment could result in employers losing up to 39% of their workforce.”

Providing employee-driven flexibility

Employers should adopt an employee-driven approach to flexible working that empowers employees to choose where, when and how they work.  To successfully make this shift, employers must destigmatize flexible working by making it the default – not the exception – and developing principles – not policies – around flexible working.

Employee-driven flexibility enables individuals to integrate personal and professional obligations to achieve work-life harmonization. In fact, the Gartner survey found that organizations with high levels of flexibility are almost three times more likely to see high employee performance.

Enabling intentional collaboration

Office-centric design relies on the serendipitous “water-cooler” moments to drive innovation. In fact, organizations still reference this as the primary reason to return employees to the office. The Gartner survey showed that HR leaders believe synchronous work – individuals working together whether in-person or virtually – is most critical to drive innovation. But Gartner data shows that asynchronous work is just as important to achieving team innovation.

“Intentional collaboration democratizes access to all modes of working – focused not just on location, but time-spend – and is inclusive of both business and employee needs,” said  Cambon. “Progressive organizations are relying less on innovation by chance and more on innovation by design. Among employees whose organizations have high levels of intentional collaboration, 75% also report having high levels of team innovation.”

Driving empathy-based management

Shifting to a hybrid environment introduced new employee struggles at the same time manager visibility decreased. While employees report difficulty disconnecting from work, feeling overwhelmed by caretaking responsibilities and suffering from virtual fatigue, 69% of HR leaders report that managers have less visibility into employee work patterns in today’s hybrid scenario.

While 89% of HR leaders agree managers must lead with empathy in the hybrid environment, Gartner's research revealed that organizational investments in managers to enable empathy-based management are falling short. For instance, while 68% of HR leaders agree that many managers are overwhelmed by their responsibilities in today’s hybrid work model, only 14% of organizations have changed manager role design to reduce their responsibilities.

Managing with empathy requires a shift away from performance by inputs toward performance by outcomes.  And this requires leaders to adopt a holistic strategy that focuses on overcoming three common barriers to empathy: skill, mindset, and capacity.

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