Trends in Flexible Work Schedules and Work from Home

March 11, 2021


In the wake of the pandemic, what does the future hold for flexible work schedules?


As the pandemic has radically altered the way many people work — particularly white-collar professionals — companies of all sizes are considering new ways of managing their organizations, and most experts believe that remote work is here to stay — even when the health crisis subsides. The challenge is how to keep employees connected, drive innovation and collaboration, and keep a steady talent pipeline when people are geographically dispersed.

Companies that are successful in their workplace choices in 2021, advises Fast Company in a January 2021 article, will need to optimize the balance between collaboration and flexibility. One way that organizations are exploring this is by determining the right, timely moments to use their office spaces. In this hybrid model, employees come into offices when it makes sense but have the flexibility to work remotely otherwise; identifying the opportunities to work onsite will likely depend on the organization, type of work, and team itself, but the overall goal will be to use these moments to foster collaboration and creativity.

These insights, and others, can be found in this resource compilation. In addition to exploring what organizations are thinking about for the future, the reports also look at some of the challenges that companies many need to confront when rethinking a workplace in which many more employees work remotely at least some of the time.

Below are helpful best practices, trends, and examples.

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Flex Work and WFH: Advertising/Marketing Industry

  • COVID-19's Impact on Creative, Marketing, and Digital Teams. ANA, May 2020.
    Cella Consulting presents findings from an early-on pandemic survey (presentation slides here and full report here) about ad-marketing teams. Crucially, said speaker Brendon Derr, VP of Strategic Solutions at Cella, survey respondents who said they didn't plan increase remote work policies need to reevaluate as they will face lots of talent challenges competing for employees with companies that have more flexibility in schedules. The remote workforce as a primary organizational strategy is here to stay, and compensation will further normalize across geographies as "work from anywhere" takes hold. Regarding post-pandemic plans:

  • Marketers Prepare for Hybrid Future of In-Person and Remote Collaboration. Digiday, February 2021.
    This article says many businesses have moved to adopt a hybrid 3:2 working model — meaning X days in the office, Y days at home. Most of the rest of the article talks about agencies and others' use of various collaboration tools to make remote working effective. For example, the managing director of the Los Angeles creative studio Caveat, which has worked on campaigns for Amazon and Nike, points to the importance of Slack, stating that around 20 percent of Caveat's client communication and as much as 90% of internal communication go through Slack, including communication between its live-action production teams. For more on the 3:2 working model, see Forbes' September 2020 article, Will the 3+2 "Hybrid" Workplace of Home and Office Become the New Norm for Business?
  • Coronavirus Pandemic Has More Employers Experimenting with Four-Day Work Week. Digiday, February 2021.
    Digiday offers some examples from the ad-marketing and MarTech worlds, stating that the affiliate marketing network Awin converted to a permanent four-day schedule. Calling the policy part of its "people-centric vision for work," Awin said it did so with no reduction in salaries or service to clients, which include Meredith and Etsy. And the social media marketing platform Buffer began to experiment with four-day weeks in May 2020 after already relaxing productivity expectations at the onset of the pandemic.

  • How Marketers Are Doing More with Less. Ad Age, February 2021.
    This article discusses findings from an industry study by RSW (full study here) and some implications for agencies that rely more heavily on remote workforces. If your office is in New York and your worker lives in Omaha but is required to be in the office several days a month, who pays for travel — and should salary be based on New York or Nebraska cost of living? Moreover, says consultant Nancy Hill, "Everyone is trying to figure out what a flex model looks like, and of course that's going to trickle down into how clients look at [agency] compensation."

  • Office Hours: The Future of Commuting, from Faking It to Luxury. Ad Age, November 2020.
    Bill Kolb, CEO and chairman of McCann Worldgroup, predicted that McCann will eventually operate with employees working in the office three days a week and from home the other two days, or some variation of that, telling Ad Age, "I think we will always need offices to drive culture and community and they will continue to play a role...." Ad Age also reports that one of McCann's priorities for coming out of the pandemic is improving work-life balance. For 2021, McCann is evaluating the work week, rethinking unlimited personal time off, and looking at overall flexible time programs for 2021.

  • Study: COVID Impact on Agencies, Marketers Is Not Uniform. MediaPost, October 2020.

    This article reports findings from a survey which revealed that 56 percent of external agency employees would prefer to return to the office full-time, compared with 38 percent of their in-house counterparts. Three in 10 marketing professionals (30 percent) find creative work and collaboration on creative projects more difficult since working from home, but a similar number (31 percent) said they found it easier remotely.

  • The Post-Pandemic White Paper: The Agency Business. Google, September 2020.
    Although this paper doesn't specifically address employee desire to flex or employers implementation of flex policies, it does say that Google believes that working from home will become the new normal, adding that the ease of working remotely will open up possibilities for workers and their employers. In a paragraph referencing Publicis (page 13), the paper says, "The question of whether working remotely will continue in a post-COVID world has been posed to the leadership of the agencies in MENA, and their view is that it has been very productive and allows for greater possibilities from a cost management and staffing perspective."

Flex Work and WFH: General

  • Hybrid Work Model Likely to Be New Norm in 2021. SHRM, January 2021.
    This high-level article summarizes recent industry studies (most of which can be found in full below).

  • It's Time to Reimagine Where and How Work Will Get Done. PWC, January 2021.
    This deep-dive report (quoted in the SHRM article above) covers a lot of good ground, discussing the difference perspectives of employers and employees, timing and concerns about reopening offices, office footprint and real estate strategies, and more. Some key findings and takeaways:
    • The office is here to stay, but its role is set to change. Fewer than one in five executives say they want to return to the office as it was pre-pandemic. The rest are grappling with how widely to extend remote work options, with just 13 percent of executives prepared to let go of the office for good.
    • There is a disconnect between U.S. executives and employees over how many days workers will be in the office when they do return — most likely during Q2 2021. More than half (55 percent) of 1,200 workers surveyed by PWC in late 2020 said they prefer working remotely three days a week. Meanwhile, 68 percent of 133 U.S. executives said workers should be in the office at least three days a week, citing concerns that company culture will not survive a purely remote work model. However, each company must weigh a variety of factors when determining the model for their organization — factors such as nature of the employees' work, employee tenure/experience level, personality type, age, and more.
  • Mercer Global Pandemic Survey Series. Mercer HR Consulting, Ongoing: July 15, 2020-2021.
    This massive ongoing survey (as of Feb 2021, there have been 8, each of which covers slightly different broad topics). Data can be filtered by country, region, and broad industry category. Below is a link to one iteration of the many available data cuts. The link above takes you to the landing page, where you can view other data options.
    • Data Cut: Professional Services in the USA.
      Question: "In the United States, how are professional services companies flexing for the future and returning to the workplace?" Among the numerous survey questions/findings:
    • Anticipated future state of workforce location once obstacles are lifted (see chart below).
    • Significant obstacles to implementing flexible working at greater scale than pre-pandemic.
    • Beyond remote working, what other elements are part of flexible working strategies or policies?
    • Among companies considering implementing flexible working at a greater scale than prior to the pandemic, what changes to existing people processes are being considered? (E.g., culture: evolving for a hybrid work environment risk management: policies to enable greater mobility — e.g., compliance, taxes, and payroll; employee/manager training: leading and/or operating in a virtual or blended environment, and more.).
    • Things that demonstrably improve flexible working in your company (e.g., training for managers in enabling flexible working; job redesign to enable flexible working; executive-led mandate (leadership driven/supported), and more.

  • TMT (Tech, Media, and Telecom) Companies Well-Prepared for Hybrid Work Model. PWC, February 2021.
    TMT (tech, media, telecom) companies are already ahead of the curve, writes PWC, and continue to nurture remote productivity with a variety of policies, resources, and tools, both digital and analog. "From empowering flexibility and setting clear boundaries to ensuring employee well-being, TMT companies doubled down on the policies necessary for effective remote work." There is, however, a bit of a disconnect between employee and employer perceptions: "TMT leaders and employees don't always agree on outcomes. For example, 100 percent of TMT executives say they are establishing clear rules about working hours, while only 77 percent of employees agree." Another key takeaway: "Almost 70% of TMT executives are comfortable with employees being in the office between two and four days per week, and less than a fifth — 17 percent — expect a five-day in-office work week."

  • What 12,000 Employees Have to Say About the Future of Remote Work. Boston Consulting Group, August 2020.
    BCG's survey explored workers' attitudes toward flexibility, productivity (on individual, collaborative, and managerial tasks), well-being, career security, social connectivity, culture, learning and development, and the work tools they use. One finding: Productivity can be maintained surprisingly well in a virtual or hybrid work setting. Factors for this may include: Without long commutes, small talk with colleagues, and coffee breaks, many workers — especially those who don't have to worry about childcare — are getting more done.

Tools

  • Flex Work Principles & Guidelines. Harvard University, September 2020.
    The principles Harvard provides here intend to give a conceptual foundation for best practices and common-sense decisions. Few will argue that such a sudden and massive pivot to remote work is optimal. But with continued grit and creativity, managers and employees will benefit from sharing the burden of trade-offs to protect an effective but still new way of working and, personal wellbeing.

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Source

"Trends in Flexible Work Schedules and Work from Home." ANA, March 2021.