The New Normal: Five Important Insights About Workplace 2.0
The move away from the 9-to-5 workplace model shows no signs of slowing: According to “Freelancing in America,” an ambitious study released by Upwork and The Freelancers’ Union in October 2017, more than 57 million Americans (36% of the U.S. workforce) now earn either a full- or part-time income as freelancers. By 2027, the study predicts, that number will grow to more than 86 million, and will represent the majority of the U.S. workforce. This has paralleled a rise in employers offering salaried employees occasional work-from-home days as a perk.
Crucially, this is not just upstart tech ventures leading the way. “Businesses of all sizes and in all industries are looking for ways to ‘court’ workers,” explains Dan Ruch, founder and CEO of Rocketrip, which helps enterprise companies reduce costs by rewarding employees for saving on their travel expenses. “That translates into a trend toward more flexibility in all aspects of the employee-employer relationship.” Indeed, legacy brands like IBM, GE, and a few dozen other Fortune 500 companies have embraced remote work, albeit with slightly less gusto. One frequently quoted stat confirms that telecommuting increased 115% between 2005 and 2015. Meanwhile, some employees who remain tethered to offices have seen their cubicles vanish in favor of open-plan offices and their schedules liberated by less-structured workdays.
Here are eye-opening insights about the new normal:
- Remote work is good for the planet: It means fewer cars on the road, less dry cleaning, fewer square feet to heat and cool, and reduced exposure to workplace germs and illnesses.
- Fewer meetings = spike in productivity: An August 2017 report in The Harvard Business Review cites a case study at a financial and regulatory consultancy. Three months after managers began to rethink the firm’s approach to meetings, a survey showed that employees reported dramatic improvements in team collaboration (a 42% jump) and felt safer speaking their minds (+32%). They also felt a spike in team performance (+28%) and their satisfaction with work/life balance rose from 62% to 92%.
- Telecommuting makes for healthier employees: Remote workers benefit from eating fresh healthy food at home, taking a brisk walk at lunchtime, and devoting the hours they’d spend commuting to spending quality time with family.
- Not everyone loves an open-plan office: We’ve heard plenty about the upsides of open-plan offices—to name a few, removing walls strengthens bonds between colleagues, sparks creativity and collaboration, and breaks down hierarchies—but one brand-new study of a 1,000-employee government office in England found that removing barriers heightened anxiety for certain employees. Specifically, some female workers reported feeling as if they were being constantly watched and their appearances constantly evaluated.
- Shorter work days can boost efficiency: The American work day looked very different in 1926, when the Supreme Court formalized the 40-hour work week. Now there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that even an eight-hour day is too long, mostly because, according to a 2017 report compiled by Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, the average worker is productive for only 2 hours and 53 minutes of that time. A six-hour workday is gaining steam in Sweden, where a study showed that healthcare workers who worked six-hour days took half as much sick leave and were 64% more productive than when they’d put in eight-hour shifts.
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