Business leaders are "holding on to the remnants of the past" by failing to recognize fundamental shifts in the workforce -- leaving them with a potential talent exodus on their hands.
A survey of more than 10,500 knowledge workers found that many company executives continue to view the office as the nerve centre of work, despite a growing preference for flexible-working policies amongst employees.
The Future Forum Pulse survey, which quizzed knowledge workers in the US, UK, Australia, France, Germany and Japan between July and August 2021, also found that workers were largely being left out of the planning of post-pandemic working policies -- suggesting that these plans are being designed around the working preferences of senior leadership.
Organizations risk losing talent if they fail to recognize "an inflection point in the workforce" brought about by the recent pivot to remote working, the report said, as well as damaging gains in workplace equality.
The view from the top
The Future Forum Pulse survey echoed a sentiment that has been voiced repeatedly over the past 18 or so months: employees have embraced remote working, and see it as a pillar of their future working preferences.
Yet executives are more likely than lower-level workers to be in favor of a working week based heavily around an office. Of those surveyed, 44% of executives said they wanted to work from the office every day, compared to just 17% of employees. Three-quarters (75%) of executives said they wanted to work from the office 3-5 days a week, versus 34% of employees.
This disconnect between employer and employee preferences risks being entrenched into new workplace policies, researchers found. Two-thirds (66%) of executives reported they were designing post-pandemic workforce plans with little to no direct input from employees -- and yet 94% said they were "moderately confident" that the policies they had created matched employee expectations.
What's more, more than half (56%) of executives reported they had finalized their plans on how employees can work in the future. The survey said the disconnect between employers and employees was largely a result of the fact that bosses tended to have a far higher level of job satisfaction than those below them.
"The view of the office looks different from the top," said Brian Elliott, executive leader of the Slack-founded Future Forum.
"While executives are banging down the door to get back to their corner offices, non-executive employees are demanding flexibility in where and when they work."
Holding on to equity gains
The Forum's survey found that 75% of employees wanted flexibility in where they work, while 93% wanted flexibility in when they work. All workers, executives and employees alike, cited "better work-life balance" as the number one reason for wanting the option of remote work.
"The desire for flexible work is strongest among women, working parents and employees of color, who have shown gains in employee experience scores while working remotely," the report noted.
The survey found that over the past 12 months, the share of black respondents agreeing with the statement "I value the relationship I have with my co-workers" rose from 48% to 76%, while the share of respondents that agreed with the statement "I am treated fairly at work" rose from 47% to 73%. Meanwhile, 87% of Asian respondents and 81% of black respondents cited a preference for flexible or hybrid work, compared to 75% of white respondents.
Employers should take this into account when thinking about what the new model of work looks like, the survey said, particularly if they want to avoid losing talent to competitors: more than half of respondents to the Future Forum's survey (57%) said they were open to looking for a new job within the next year.
"If employers don't pay attention and take action to re-create the best of what we've learned working virtually in the office and in hybrid work environments, then opportunities for inequity could skyrocket," said Ella Washington organizational psychologist and faculty member at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business.
Employees and customers of Slack were not included in the survey, which was administered by software company Qualtrics.