Survey Shows Employee Experience on a Knife Edge as Hybrid Work Looms

Employees are determined to continue flexible working

Over the past two years, the future of work has become a reality for many employees forced to rapidly adapt to working from home, embracing online collaboration and cloud technology. Not everything was positive, but the change in the status quo had a huge impact on the way businesses think about their workforce and its experience. Now, as the restrictions of the pandemic start to ease, we look ahead to what work looks like post-Covid-19, and what this tells us about the direction of workplace technology strategy.

Every year, CCS Insight surveys employees on their attitudes to technology in the workplace and perceptions on key technology trends. This year we surveyed 611 employees in the US and Europe on topics including hybrid and remote work, employee experience, devices, communications and collaboration, and other emerging technology trends.

Here we provide an overview of some of the most significant findings from this year’s data. The full report Employee Workplace Technology Survey, 2022 is available to clients now.

The Only Certainty about Hybrid Work Is That Employees Definitely Want It

Employees are determined that there is no return to full-time office working, with 90% of information workers wanting to retain some level of remote work after the pandemic. Just over a quarter (27%) want to work from home full time; most desire a hybrid model involving some office-based working, giving them regular, in-person interaction with colleagues that many have missed while working remotely, while retaining the flexibility that they’ve come to rely on.

However, although businesses in some regions are now able to resume some office working, some employees are still uncertain about how hybrid work will work in practice. As the chart below shows, they worry about their ability to build work relationships with colleagues in a hybrid environment (38%), and are uneasy about whether they’ll go to the office only to find themselves in online meetings all day (34%) and whether it’s worth going in if their team isn’t there (31%).

As businesses grapple with how much structure they should impose on their staff to ensure the hybrid work model meets employees’ demands for flexibility as well as the operational needs of the business, our survey found opinions differed according to respondents’ level of seniority. Senior managers are in favour of having set days in the office each week (53%), but non-managers want day-to-day choice (41%). We also see divisions based on age: baby boomers want flexibility (43%), while millennials want predictability (45%). This is a challenge for decision-makers, and could lead to disillusionment and resentment from employees if they feel their views have been ignored.

Overall, however, most employees (50%) consider their organizations to be well-prepared for the shift to hybrid work, with only 18% saying their company is not at all ready. Although business leaders will welcome employees’ confidence in their preparations, we believe that in practice, given the high level of uncertainty about the true impact of a shift to hybrid working on businesses’ culture, technology and strategy, this figure overlooks the scale of the changes ahead and what they mean for businesses.

Spotlight on Employee Experience as One in Four Consider Quitting in 2022

As an issue that was already growing in awareness among business leaders before the pandemic, employee experience has catapulted to front of stage thanks to “the great resignation”. Attracting and retaining the best talent to help fuel business growth and innovation in an increasingly competitive environment has become a board-level priority, and is even more critical as organizations look to accelerate their digital transformation.

Unfortunately, although many businesses are now able to look ahead to post-pandemic strategy, employee retention pressures show no signs of abating. Our survey shows that a quarter of employees are considering leaving their current employer in the next 12 months, rising to 34% of those aged under 40, and half of all those who have joined since the start of the pandemic. A positive employee experience has never been so crucial, and yet factors that employees identify as central to their working experience, such as colleague relationships (34%) and a healthy work–life balance (31%), are the same things that we see breeding uncertainty and anxiety among employees in the shift to hybrid work.

It’s now vital for business leaders to address the practicalities of what hybrid work will mean for their organization, even if there’s inevitably a need to acknowledge that any strategies and policies may have to adapt in response to employee feedback and business requirements.

Another factor influencing employee experience, particularly among employees in the US, is having the right tools and applications to get your work done (26% overall, but cited by 31% of US respondents). Despite the wealth of changes that employees have faced throughout the pandemic, most employees remain positive about their workplace technology experience, awarding it an average rating of 7.4 out of 10.

Among those who have been unable to work from home, however, the picture is less rosy, with an average rating of 6.5 from front-line workers, and 20% of them rating their technology experience lower than 5. Long underserved by workplace technology as firms prioritized information workers, this is now a major focus of investment by technology providers, specifically to improve the experience and engagement of front-line workers, and in turn reduce employee churn.

Shift to Online Meetings Triggers Disruption across the Workplace Technology Spectrum

Businesses’ reliance on online meeting solutions continues to grow, with adoption of Microsoft Teams and Zoom among employees jumping more than 50% in 2021, according to our survey. Microsoft Teams is now used by 47% of respondents, with Zoom used by 41%. As organizations move to hybrid work, these tools will remain critical to employee productivity and core business operations, which will in turn affect a wide range of technology markets.

Traditional voice technologies are at the forefront of this disruption, with our survey showing that desk phone and mobile phone calls are down 20% since before the pandemic, in favour of voice and video calls on online meeting apps (see below). This trend isn’t slowing either — almost a quarter of employees expect their use of desk phones to decrease further over the next 12 months even as they start to return to working in offices, and voice-only and video calls on a meeting app are both expected to grow strongly. We believe this will prompt businesses to question their need for enterprise voice contracts in addition to collaboration platform subscriptions, leading to the two areas converging over the next five years, as we predicted in CCS Insight Predictions for 2022 and Beyond.

The potential knock-on effect of this trend on other areas of technology investment is also becoming apparent, with a slow fixed-line office network being the biggest connectivity frustration for employees (37%). As workers continue participating in online meetings even as they return to offices, this will put even more pressure on the corporate network, and will also undoubtedly drive demand for more-reliable office Wi-Fi — something that’s already flagged as a problem by 29% of employees. And as workforces become more mobile once again, the need for reliable connectivity while on the move (27%) will only grow.

The Calm before the Hybrid Work Storm

The past two years have seen tremendous change for employees and businesses alike. But with the shift to hybrid work, the next two years could make those changes look like a drop in the ocean — particularly when it comes to the impact on technology strategy. Enabling a remote workforce pushed many businesses to make their first serious commitment to the cloud, for example embracing online collaboration technology to substitute working together in person.

However, although these investments required a shift in the status quo and helped accelerate the digital transformation mind-set, many were add-on technologies — things that could be deployed alongside existing investments. As we enter the hybrid work era, businesses must now reassess their existing strategic investments — such as their corporate network infrastructure, IT security and business communications strategy — to ensure they’re fit for purpose to support the organization’s transformation and growth ambitions. For many, major investment will be needed, with complex, difficult problems to be solved — problems and expenditure that the organization may have been putting off for a long time.

Although this change may now be unavoidable, it’ll mean more upheaval for employees at a time when many are already reconsidering their future. It’s vital that businesses take a proactive, managed approach to their transformation and minimize the impact on the employee experience. A business’s success depends on its employees; it’s critical that employee experience remains at the centre of any workplace transformation strategy.

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