Business leaders are significantly more satisfied with how they have adjusted to new working norms than their employees are. Research points to the need for clearer organisational insight into how employees have re-evaluated what they need from their workplace.

These are among the finding from NTT’s 2021 edition of the Global Workplace Report, which offers insight into the future of work as businesses around the world prepare for a post-pandemic reality.

Conducting 1 146 interviews – of which 150 were from the MEA region – across 23 countries, NTT found near-universal agreement that remote working has introduced difficulties, with 88% of respondents saying that it has challenged organisational performance and 83% saying that it has been challenging for employees.

Sixty-seven percent of organisations in MEA, meanwhile, say that employee wellbeing has deteriorated over the course of the pandemic.

Broad awareness of the issue is not always translating into a realistic assessment of organisational capability, however. Compared to operations staff, CEOs are 20 percentage points more likely to believe that their organization is very effective at managing working hours, 28 points more likely to believe that they are effective at preventing burnout, and 41 points more likely to be very satisfied with their organisation’s employee experience (EX) capabilities.

This awareness gap mirrors a serious lack of employee confidence, with just 38% saying that their employer fully values their health and wellbeing, and only 23% saying they are very happy working for their employer.

The great work-life reassessment

Underlying the satisfaction gap between employers and employees, the research found a significant degree of diversity in employee attitudes towards their own future working preferences.

Voice of the Employee (VoE) data shows that, when offered a choice of at-home, hybrid, or in-office working arrangements, employees are relatively evenly split between the three, at 30%, 30%, and 39%, respectively.

This finding contradicts the belief, shared by 81% of organisations, that employees prefer remote working.

“Currently, the narrative is all about remote working – but the reality of employees’ needs is much more complicated, and any failure to accurately assess and respond to that fact presents a serious risk to organisations”, comments Alex Bennett, global senior vice-president: GTM Solutions at NTT Ltd.

“These are not mild preferences: we found that work-life balance and commute times are now the two biggest factors people look at when deciding where to work, and so performing well on workforce and workplace strategy will be a real competitive advantage.”

The need to lead by Example

Acting on the basis of a clear view of employees’ outlooks is being made more difficult by a lack of thorough data and insight collection. In terms of data priorities, 58% of businesses report VoE being a top focus, third only to workplace analytics at 67%.

In spite of this, however, just 45% of organisations have structured VoE programs, and 42% employ real-time sentiment analysis, compared to 51% utilising employee surveys.

The research also demonstrated that the application of these kinds of data for improving an organisation’s EX needs to go much further than day-to-day quality-of-life improvements; at 40%, a company’s purpose and values is now the third most important factor for choosing where to work.

In this area, employees and business leaders are in sync, with 85% agreeing that environment, social and governance (ESG) objectives are at the heart of the organisation’s agenda.

“I would look at this as a call to shift our thinking from being about actions to being about outcomes,” says Bennett. “What’s important is not what we do to improve the workplace, but how it actually benefits the workforce – and an organization cannot know that without a mature approach to measuring employees’ sentiment.

“Surprisingly, two-thirds of employees say they’re not yet equipped with all the tools they need to work from home, and just 45% of organisations say they are strongly satisfied that office spaces are ready for hybrid working.

“Nonetheless, 80% of organisations are engaged in reshaping their office space over the next 12 months to foster an environment of innovation and social connection. Clearly, there’s an awareness on some level that immature workforce strategies will lead to employee discontent, and that work should be led by what people actually need.”