As the pandemic redefined all aspects of life, changes to how people work continue to evolve as priorities shift and companies sort out what the future of work looks like.
As businesses were forced to close offices, remote work and work from home became the norm. Now, as businesses reopen, there’s a demand from employees to have remote work options. During the recent Fairchild Media Group Tech Forum, Christina Janzer, senior director of research and analytics at Slack, discussed this trend with Adrianna Lee, technology reporter for WWD.
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“I think as people started to adapt [to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic] and figure it out, they started to realize that there’s actually a lot of benefits to remote work,” Janzer said. “In our research we looked across a lot of dimensions such as work life-balance, stress and anxiety and productivity as well as a sense of belonging; and for the most part, people were happier working remotely than they were when they were in the office.”
This resulted in a shift of priorities with people wanting greater flexibility in their jobs, and the ability to work remotely. Janzer said there are companies exploring various models — from complete remote work to a hybrid model. But whichever model is deployed, Janzer said companies need to rethink what supports productivity and work.
“Companies need to consider the tools and infrastructure that are going to support this new way of working because it doesn’t just come for free,” she said. “You can’t just let people work from home or let people work whenever they want and expect that things are just going to be productive. And one key shift that companies need to think about is headquarters, and how it can shift to virtual.”
Janzer said reframing traditional offices into “digital headquarters” requires uniting all employees by creating an inclusive and equitable work environment — “so that no matter where you work you can be effective, and can get promoted.”
One area of concern for employees, though, centers around having a “sense of belonging” to a company, which includes “water cooler talk” and other social aspects of work life. When asked about a lack of organic conversations, connections and collaborations, Janzer said people are concerned that remote work fails on that front. But she said solutions such as Slack and its Slack channels are tools that can be used for social purposes at work.
“People will use Slack channels to come together around topics that are work related for sure but also that are more social by nature,” she said, adding that channels on the platform were used to vent about parenting issues, homeschooling and “managing the chaos” of family life under lockdown. “So the water cooler chat can be replicated in digital tools, and I think that’s been a really effective way for people to build that connection and that camaraderie.”
Janzer offered a case study in Wayfair.com, the online merchant, which had to shift everyone to remote work. “They used Slack for organizing work topics, but they also created a bunch of social channels, too, to come together around topics that were really relevant at the time such as social unrest subtopics, and the pandemic. It gave people space as an outlet, which helped build connections.”