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Published: Jun 30 2021

In Case You Missed It – The Return to Work is Here

By Ashley Guerra, Product Marketing Manager at Accruent

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change." -Charles Darwin

The Pandemic Effect: A Moment in Workplace History

The global pandemic has impacted our world in a myriad of ways, but at its core, the pandemic is a story of adaptation. Seemingly overnight, schools and offices shut down and the world as we knew it was forever changed.

Despite the struggles of staying in business during a global pandemic, many industries and organizations found themselves quickly pivoting to solve for safety, social distancing, and sanitation. From ride share drivers installing plexiglass barricades in their cars to grocery stores ensuring social distancing in aisles and checkout stations, adapting was the key to survival. And even as we return to a sense of normalcy, we’re all still needing to adapt because things won’t just go back to the way they were.

For enterprise organizations, this could mean shifting to a fully remote workforce or increasing sanitation across their physical spaces. As a result, the need for technology solutions to manage physical spaces has become a top priority.

Solutions like room signs, desk hoteling, room booking, and CMMS work order management have made their way to the top of the procurement pile as enterprises seek to answer business-critical questions like, “How do we make our office safe? Can we expand or reduce our physical footprint? How can we enable contact tracing?” and most importantly, “How will we survive?”

At a high level, the quick adaption of how and where we work caused a snowball effect in the modern workplace. Much like the 9-5 workday made popular in the 1920s marked a collective shift in the workforce, this global pandemic will be a historical, social, and in some ways, existential societal shift.

It’s natural that this much sudden change would cause a sharp, fundamental shift in the way we perceive how we work, causing us to question the utopian concept of a true work-life balance.

The Return to Work Floods Our Newsfeeds

Unless you’ve been living under a digital rock, your newsfeeds are likely riddled with the latest take on the return to work, from strategies used by leading organizations to the latest industry trend reports. But this is to be expected during one of the biggest moments in workplace history. Still, all this chatter can leave organizations and employees feeling confused. Should we be forcing employees to return the office? Should we be completely remote? Are we really returning to work? Did we ever stop working?

If you’re leaving your morning newsfeed deep dive feeling like you’re on the verge of an existential crisis, you’re not alone. The truth is the simplest and most important detail to remember about the “return” to work is that it is a highly emotionally charged phenomenon.

Simply put, we’re stressed out and have been since the start of the pandemic.

Now that we’ve adjusted to the new normal, the idea of another sharp change can be overwhelming. According to the Mental Health Index by Total Brain, mental health is on the decline as the return to the office looms with employee stress 12% higher than it was in March 2021.

When we return to our physical offices, we’ll be bringing along some serious emotional baggage and employers need to understand, prioritize, and plan for their employee’s experience.

In this blog series, we’ll take a look at some of the biggest emerging trends affecting the return to work and employee experience that will have a lasting and immediate impact on the modern workplace. In this post, we’re diving into the stigmas of remote work and the chase for work-life balance.

Removing The Stigmas of WFH

With a forced shift to remote work, many employees and organizations approached remote work for the first time in 2020. A Gallup poll from the end of April 2020 showed that 63% of U.S. employees said they had worked from home in the past seven days because of coronavirus concerns, doubled from 31% only three weeks prior.

Enterprises were left to question if they could stay profitable with a WFH strategy, if employees would maintain or worse decrease productivity, and how they would maintain focus on their yearly objectives with such a drastic change.

In reality, remote work resulted in maintained and, in some instances, even higher productivity. According to HR and workplace benefits consulting firm Mercer’s remote work survey, 94% of employers surveyed said their company productivity was the same (67%) or higher (27%) than it was before the pandemic. Despite the stigmas of remote work, employees adapted to the new normal and settled into the remote reality of 2020 and beyond.

But reality also revealed that working from home during a global pandemic after a rushed, forced adjustment came with greater challenges than just questions around worker productivity. Boundaries that uphold work-life balance became increasingly blurred as employees tried to “prove” they could still be just as productive and weren’t goofing off, particularly in industries where WFH was never commonplace.

63% of U.S. employees have worked from home in the past seven days because of coronavirus concerns.

The Existential Crisis of a Work-Life Balance

The concept of work-life balance has been at the forefront of workplace conversations for over a decade. However, the pandemic sparked even more discussion on how best to prioritize mental health and maintain good work-life balance, particularly while adjusting to working from home through a global health crisis.

The truth is: in a mobile-enabled world where you can take calls on your morning walk or commute and respond to urgent messages via chat at any moment, the concept of work-life balance is a myth. With every workplace supporting technology like Outlook, Gmail, Slack and Teams, and each one with a mobile app on our phones eliminates our ability to unplug and de-stress.

In a lot of ways, modern expectations around work-life balance aren’t that we can escape work and focus on our personal life, but rather, that we can enact some autonomy or control over our work experience, allowing us to have a personal life outside of work.

Based on an Upwork survey showing 61.9% of companies are planning for more remote work now and in years to come, one thing is clear: enabling remote work and supporting boundaries for work-life balance are critical for a successful workplace.

Final Thoughts

If you’re preparing your workplace for some form of return to work, understanding the emotional-side of change and the mental health impact on your workforce should absolutely make its way to the top of your considerations list.

Ultimately, a successful return looks different for every organization, but unsuccessful returns have one thing in common: they lack care and attention for the employee experience.

Considering the stigmas of remote work and work-life balance are just a first step. Tune into the rest of our series to learn what else to factor into your next workspace adaptation.

Download our ebook: Trends in Workplace Collaboration.

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