Future of Work Wednesday: 5 Massive Takeaways from Owl Labs Report

Britta Schellenberg
Britta Schellenberg
Published on 
2.23.2022

future of work wednesdays

I love reading news articles, surveys, and reports that illuminate where the future of work (FoW) is heading. In this FoWW, I’m going to explore the recently-released State of Remote Work 2021 report from Owl Labs. It provides an in-depth, data-informed look at how U.S. employees have been feeling about hybrid work, how their behaviors have evolved since the pandemic, and how employers are adjusting to hybrid work. 

The report makes it clear that flexibility and a focus on employee experience are the two key (and intertwined) factors for success among organizations leading the way in hybrid work. 

Here are five key takeaways from this must-read report:

1. Employer inflexibility will make employees “vote with their feet”

According to the report, 56% of employees who work remotely at least some of the time said they’d either quit or start looking for another job if their current employer eliminated remote work and forced people back to the office full-time.

Perhaps even scarier for employers, about half of the employees who’d stay without any remote work option (neither quitting nor beginning a job hunt), would feel “less likely to go that extra mile” for their employer, notes the report. It’s clear that inflexibility is devastating for employee experience, and is a deal-breaker for most employees.

2. Hybrid employees want the office, but it’s no longer the default place to work

Despite the overwhelming majority (generally above 70%) of employees who want to WFH at least some of the time, employees actually miss and want to take advantage of the office for face-to-face collaboration, for strengthening working relationships, and for building social capital/their professional networks. 

The report notes that 73% of employees have returned to the office at least one day per week, largely because they recognize its unique benefits for work-life. As the report explains: “hybrid work is clearly what employees expect going forward, but [they] don’t dismiss the physical office. Employees also want days in-office to meet with their teams, engage with leadership, brainstorm and more.” The office remains an important locus for hybrid work, but its use must be fully intentional and coordinated.

3. In a WFA world, employees are stressed and want support

Working from home can be stressful, as the massive increase in employee burnout has shown. WFH employees are working in home environments where spouses, kids, pets, and package delivery people roam (countless Zoom meetings have been interrupted by delivery people ringing the front doorbell). Employees are hunkering down and working in the kitchen (21% report doing so, according to Owl Labs), the bedroom (39%), outside (24%) and even (perhaps on hectic days where privacy is at a premium) in the closet (21%).

Overall, employee productivity has been maintained or even increased. Owl Labs found that employees who work from home are working more hours, despite anxiety from managers that they’re doing laundry and binge-watching Netflix. In one of the report’s most jaw-dropping findings, 30% of men and 21% of women who WFH are working 2 or more extra hours per day (yes, per day). 

As employee burnout has become widespread, with millions of employees quitting because of it (the report finds that women have changed jobs 43% more than men), only 11% of managers are even concerned about employee burnout, according to the report. That’s a recipe for employee frustration transforming into employee churn.

4. Physical workspaces need to evolve in a hybrid work world

The Owl Labs report makes it clear that when employees arrange to come together in the physical office, they want the gathering to be (1) safe, (2) done with a clear intention/purpose in mind, and (3) supported by the physical workspace (i.e., the configuration of the workspace) and by good connectivity within the physical workspace. Workspaces need to effectively connect the people inside it and outside it with digital connectivity. Think “phygital,” combining the physical and the digital. 

Workspace and the demands placed upon it have changed. More hot desking is one obvious example, but so are “flexibility-first” space reconfigurations and enhanced connectivity to support hybrid meetings (some employees are sitting in a conference room and others can connect from home). As the report says, “in this new era of work, if a space isn’t wired for hybrid collaboration, it’s now a wasted space.” 

5. Leadership/managerial mindsets must evolve too

The old school, command-and-control type management is in full retreat, especially as employees vote against it by quitting and joining companies that offer more flexibility in how, when, and where work happens. The Owl Labs report puts it bluntly: “leadership must rethink their workplace culture to be more inclusive of remote and hybrid work - this is the next normal.”

Managers can’t walk around the office anymore and “monitor” their reports. Instead, they should be having digital “check-ins” that consider both an employee’s work and their well-being. Of those employees who changed jobs, 87% did so for “lower stress.” Leaders and managers would be wise to listen more, ask more questions, and give fewer mandates. Employees can and will, as we’ve seen, vote with their feet.

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