Almost a year after shelter-in-place mandates changed the way people shop and travel, consumer-facing companies continue to navigate a slew of challenges.
While a cross-section of employees at consumer markets (CM) companies are essential workers who need to be physically present to do their jobs, many are able to work remotely. We first surveyed those employees as well as CM employers in June 2020, then again in December.
The results? Executives and employers alike agree the future of work will consist of a hybrid of remote and in-person assignments. They may differ on the details, but they agree there’s no going back to a pre-pandemic environment. In fact, CM employers told us they plan to double down on investments in the tools and resources required to sustain this hybrid environment.
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While both executives and employees told us that the shift to remote work has been successful, employers are far more enthusiastic (92%) than employees (62%). That’s likely because employers are assessing overall metrics while employees are finding collaboration more challenging in a remote setting.
It’s no surprise then that 91% of CM employers told us remote work has proved as productive or more productive than pre-COVID times (versus 83% for all sectors), up from 77% in our June survey.
Meanwhile, only 76% of employees agreed (in line with all sectors at 77%), down slightly from 79% in June. In fact, about a quarter of employees said they’re less productive, compared with 10% of executives.
Implications: Employees continue to find collaboration challenging in a remote environment. Tools and resources to enhance secure remote connectivity, combined with teaming spaces in the office, can help with relationship-building, especially for new employees.
In keeping with their expectation that some measure of remote work is here to stay, employers told us they’re doubling down on the tools and resources required for a hybrid work environment.
Ahead of other sectors, almost 80% said they will invest in IT infrastructure to enable secure and effective virtual connectivity. The vast majority of CM employees (84%) told us they already have the mobile support they need, well ahead of other sectors at 74%.
Implications: The foundation of remote work—secure IT infrastructure—allows CM companies to prepare for a post-pandemic future in which the right combination of digital and physical options will prevail.
More than other sectors, CM leaders are going with the flow on remote work (40% versus 32%). They told us they plan to maintain some level of remote work in the future—and they may even increase the current level.
While 57% of employees said they’d like to work at home at least three days per week when pandemic-related restrictions are lifted, 58% said they expect to be working in the office at least half of the time by July 2021.
This finding is in sync with what CM executives told us: By July, 71% anticipate at least 50% of their office workers will be back in the office part of the time.
Implications: Staying flexible now allows CM leaders to plan for the right mix of remote and in-person work schedules in the future.
Despite the success of remote work, the office still matters to CM executives as they look ahead to a hybrid environment. They told us the office remains very important for increasing employee productivity, holding client meetings and accommodating employees who can’t work from home.
For employees, relationships with colleagues are a top priority, with 58% saying it’s very important while they’re in the office, compared to 44% for other sectors. While they also cited accessing sensitive information, training and meeting with managers, none of those reasons compare to the importance they ascribe to building relationships.
Implications: Some level of in-person contact is essential to build valuable peer-to-peer relationships for efficient workflow. A hybrid work setting will require the right mix.
Looking ahead, more than half of the CM executives we polled (54%) told us they see a need for additional real estate three years from now, as they anticipate growth in the number of employees, physical distancing requirements and the need for team collaboration space.
About a third (32%) expect to need less space in three years, anticipating an increase in the frequency and number of employees working remotely. Some said they might reduce overall office space in response to the increased cost of public-health-related regulatory compliance requirements at the office.
In the short term, over the next 12 months, CM executives plan to consolidate office space in at least one major business district location as well as open more satellite offices in suburban locations or away from major cities.
Implications: The jury’s still out. While CM executives foresee growth in three years, they’re split on the need for more office space to keep up with that growth and the attendant public-health requirements for physical distancing and safety.
Customer relationships are the lifeblood of consumer-facing companies—and these relationships have fared well, despite the remote-work environment necessitated by the pandemic. Indeed, 94% of the CM executives we polled said customer-service levels are now as good as, or better than in the past.
That’s because CM companies have doubled down on digital investments to ensure a high-touch experience for customers, no matter how they choose to interact with a company: online, in person or using some combination of the two. And these digital investments have enabled companies to provide the training and tools that employees need for success in a combined digital and physical workplace.