Pump the brakes on the rush to return to the office. Your employees will thank you for it, says Ergotron CEO
Two years ago, experts said the traditional work model had changed forever, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced a transition to working from home.
However, several major companies in the United States, including tech firms, are turning back the clock and encouraging employees to return to the office. Last week, Microsoft fully opened its new Silicon Valley campus. This week, investment bank BNY Mellon is welcoming employees back to its New York City-based office. Menlo Park, CA-based Meta (Facebook) and New York City-based American Express also expect employees to come back this month.
Google has gone so far as to drop its requirement that vaccinated U.S. employees get weekly COVID tests before they come into the office, and it also will no longer require them to wear masks in the office. In addition, the Mountain View, CA-based company plans to reinstate office perks, including reopening cafeterias, fitness centers and game rooms.
Paradoxically, while these corporations are doing whatever it takes to bring workers back to the office, all of the data indicates that workers are quite happy (and more productive) at home.
Three-quarters of employees say that their work-life balance has improved as a result of a hybrid or remote working environment, according to The Evolving Office: Empowering Employees to Work Vibrantly in 2022, the latest survey from Ergotron. The St. Paul, MN-based business equipment manufacturer specializes in ergonomics, the study of people’s efficiency in their workplace.
Here’s the interesting part: 81% of those who reported improved work-life balance say they’re working more hours than before the pandemic.
It's a win-win, as employees are satisfied with their schedule and employers are seeing more bang for their buck. “We’ve found a better way to work,” Chad Severson, CEO of Ergotron, told HRD. “Companies should embrace the fully remote or hybrid model. There’s a lot of power in giving employees autonomy and flexibility.”
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Severson understands the trepidation that business leaders may have. In fact, he felt the same way at the beginning of the pandemic, worrying that company culture and momentum would be lost due to the transition. However, he’s proud to admit his fears were unfounded – Ergotron has since set company records and improved employee survey scores three years in a row.
Identifying more than 20% of positions as having remote capability, Ergotron leadership has asked those individuals if they’d prefer to stay working from home. If not, there’s plenty of room in the office, which has been modified for health and safety precautions, for hot desking and collaboration.
“The key has been two-way communication,” Severson says.
At the beginning of the pandemic, he was on a weekly video call with employees to check in and maintain connections. When there was a lull in COVID-19 cases last summer, the company hosted an outdoor BBQ for employees, including more than 20 recent hires who had never been on the property or seen coworkers in person. Severson also credits an internal group of volunteers for creating teambuilding activities that fueled employee engagement during the troubling time.
The renewed sense of camaraderie was a blessing, as employees struggled with loneliness, fatigue and other mental health issues. After seeing the challenges that young parents have been facing with their children home from school, as well as those caring for older family members, Severson says Ergotron invested more in counseling sessions and its employee assistance program (EAP).
Flexibility has been a common relief, according to the survey, as 56% of employees reported improvements to their mental health as a result of the hybrid work environment. Three-quarters stated that they move more frequently and have a more active workstyle when working remotely. Furthermore, 76% revealed that their employers implemented wellness programs to support mental and physical health, with 30% of those being brand new since the onset of the pandemic.
Mental health has been a major contributor to the Great Resignation, in which companies across the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom have experienced historic turnover. For example, more than 47 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Half of those claimed to leave because of their mental health, according to non-profit organization Mind Share Partners.
Despite the talent shortage, Ergotron continues to increase its workforce. Severson credits the shift to remote work for opening up the talent pool around the world.
“We have employees that wouldn’t have been available to us before the pandemic,” he says. “If you want to get up in the morning and work for someone that makes a difference in people’s lives, we’re that company. If you combine that with our two-way communication and flexibility and autonomy in how the work is done, I truly believe we can be a company that attracts top talent during this period of change.”