Research Note: Choose Your Own Adventure: Returning to the Workplace, Protecting the Employee Experience

3Sixty Insights Research Note - Return to the Workplace - ThumbnailThe world of work continues to claw back from its initial, hasty reactions to the pandemic and settle into more deliberate, longer-term responses and practices. In doing so, organizations have endeavored to recover from the disruption and make sense of the aftermath. Through surveys and introspection, many have examined the impacts their actions have had on their people. Against this backdrop, 3Sixty Insights continues with a keen interest in learning how related attitudes and realities have shifted around the employee experience—its importance, its priority. (3Sixty Insights BWSRP2154 – “COVID-19, WFH, and the Long View: Can HCM Protect the Employee Experience?,” May 2021). For one, our view of the relationship between HR and the employee experience has sharpened. Informed by observation, as well as interviews with leaders who practice HR or help develop solutions for them, 3Sixty Insights has compiled the following report to share our findings and, importantly, the evolution in our understanding of where HR fits vis-à-vis organizations’ efforts to protect the employee experience.

A Two-Year-Old, Old Tale of the Future

Some call it the new normal. Others speak of the next normal. We are nearly two years into a pandemic, and the already age-old tale of how the world of work is trying to return to the workplace is one everyone knows. And, with many permutations and potential outcomes still unfolding, this tale is far from over. One thing is now clear, however: What used to be normal in the work world is forever in the past.
Perhaps the starkest example supporting the idea that the future of work, both near and distant, will never look like the still-recent past of 2019 is New York City. Only 28 percent of office workers are at their Manhattan workplaces on any given weekday, according to the findings of a mid-October 2021 survey by Partnership for New York City, “a nonprofit organization whose 330 members are preeminent business leaders and companies that employ more than 1 million New Yorkers.” The same percentage are in their Manhattan office space only one to three days per week, and a majority, 54 percent, remain fully remote. In an effort to determine why all this is so, Partnership for New York City found 48 percent of employers citing the status of COVID-19 as the largest factor contributing to the circumstances. Unless legal considerations drive their concerns, it is tough to reconcile the finding with those of an Axios/Ipsos poll from November 2021 indicating that most Americans believe that a return to their pre-pandemic lives poses only a low to moderate risk. Meanwhile Partnership for New York City finds 33 percent reporting that employees just prefer work-from-home (WFH).

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