It’s been one year since the pandemic began. When millions of employees packed up their laptops last March, nobody knew what lay ahead. Twelve months later, it’s still uncertain, but we do know that this year has served as a real shock to what we’re used to at work.
To find out more and determine what issues were and are continuing to permeate in our new workplace reality, we surveyed 1,000 full-time employees at large companies (500+ employees) in February 2021 with True Global Intelligence. What we discovered is that one year in, there’s a new set of workplace behaviors and attitudes that exist below the surface of our everyday environment and interactions. And while some things have gotten better – like experiencing fewer technical issues while working remotely – there is a new set of challenges facing the workplace too.
For leaders, that means an urgency to lean on a new toolbox for remote communication; otherwise, they risk falling behind in addressing the changes in our new workplace.
Scroll down to see research findings and how they compare to results from the pre-pandemic era (February 2020), as well as when we surveyed them months into the pandemic (July 2020), and click here for prior #VyondTheSurface survey data.
The New Rules of the Workplace
We’ve heard of the “death of the 9 to 5”, but the pandemic has impacted more than just how employees structure their days. There is a whole new set of cultural norms that have developed in the past year; what was considered inappropriate at work a year ago has changed almost completely.
Once Taboo Subjects like Politics and Religion Have Suddenly Become OK at Work
In the last year, perceptions have changed around talking about politics and religion at work, with the number of employees who consider discussing politics a workplace violation decreasing by 23% points in 12 months (from 43% in February 2020 to 20% in February 2021) and religion decreasing by 17% points (from 43% in February 2020 to 26% in February 2021). As the pandemic has forced many workers to be physically distant from colleagues but closer with smaller circles of family and friends, conversation topics once considered only permissible among close connections are now more broadly acceptable. Further, employees are now expecting their organizations to take a stance on social issues and want to feel the freedom to express their own beliefs openly at work.
Taking a 5-Minute Break to Check Personal Social Media is No Longer Seen as Slacking
While 46% said they consider using personal social media while working a violation last year, now only 23% consider it so. In general, remote work has required employees to self-manage in many ways and flex work to complement their lives at home. And without colleagues around to be mindful of, employees feel more freedom to work in a way that works for them.
The Rise of Remote Work is Making Workplace Romances More Acceptable
While having romantic relationships with people in the office was seen as a workplace violation by 52% of respondents in February 2020, now only 20% consider it to be one. Remote work’s tendency to break down the barrier between work and personal lives is likely impacting this shift.
Employee Experience is Better, but Divided
Overall, employees have found their groove with snags like technical issues (35% said it was a top frustration in July 2020 and now that’s down to 29%), but when it comes to things like work-life balance and how employees are adapting to workplace changes, things look different based on employee’s work status, age and gender. And as different identities experience work differently, workplace communications will need to adapt to becoming more personal and engaging as the one-size-fits-all approach to corporate communications risks alienating some groups of employees.
Working From Home Isn’t As Balanced As It Seemed, But Has Its Benefits
Non-Remote workers report they have a healthier work-life balance compared to Remote Workers (90% vs. 83%), and things have improved for them since the summer. Non-remote employees reported a 12% increase in their work-life balance from July 2020, suggesting a physical separation between work and home made a significant difference for this group.
Still, remote work does boast benefits for employees like money and time savings by not commuting (56%), followed by improved overall comfort while working (50%) and increased time at home with family or roommates (49%).
Away From the Office, Younger Workers Thrive While Boomers Struggle to Find Balance
Younger generations are more likely to say their work-life balance has improved during the past year (38% of Gen Z, 47% of Millennials and 38% of Gen X), compared to just 30% of Boomers. As younger generations have a leg up on technological skills and using virtual tools to communicate, they’ve adapted better to work during the pandemic.
The Workplace is Divided on Mental Health
Half of all employees and 52% of women indicated training on mental health would be valuable, whereas only 37% of Boomers and 37% of men feel that way.
While 56% of all employees feel their company is committed to its employee’s mental health needs, 40% of Millennials do not think their company takes employee mental health seriously enough.
As changing conditions continue to disproportionately impact employees across age and gender, organizations need to listen to the most vulnerable workers to better understand training and mental health needs.
Without Personal Connections, Remote Workers Could Fall Behind
Three-fourths of employees say there are office politics in the workplace, and four-in-five employees report office politics have remained the same or increased over the past year. Among the most common types of office politics employees notice is preferential treatment for colleagues who have more personal relationships with superiors (35%). As more companies adopt a hybrid approach to on-site and remote work, they need to make sure everybody has equitable opportunities to make personal connections at work.
Company Communications Are Perceived Differently Across Gender
We asked all surveyed for their gender identity and noticed stark divides in employee experience, particularly between men and women.
While 73% of men say their company is transparent about their return to work policy, only 63% of women agree. Similarly, 61% of men say leadership at their company is doing well communicating with employees, while only 55% of female employees agree. On mental health; 60% of men say they feel their company is committed to employees’ mental health needs, while only 52% of women agree.
49% of men say they have a completely healthy work-life balance, compared to 39% of women. All employees experienced a dip in their work-life balance this past summer. Women continue to suffer disproportionately in this area.
Navigating a New Toolbox of Communication Channels
As work continues to happen virtually and we rely more heavily on email and collaboration channels, new questions arise around how and when to use which medium to communicate.
When Sending and Receiving Messages, Channels Matter to Employees
44% say it’s frustrating when colleagues share messages on the wrong channels (using collaboration platforms instead of an email, etc.), with Millennials feeling the most frustrated (50%). Older generations struggle more with determining which communication tools are appropriate for a given situation. Boomers are less likely than younger generations to opt for email over real-time conversations (35% vs. 46% overall).
Creating explicit guidance for employees on which channels to use is a great way to avoid the common tensions and confusion of our increasingly-fragmented workplaces. Such internal communications policies should still be flexible enough to accommodate organic norms that emerge from team members. Training videos are a great way to start the conversation about communication channels get everyone on the same page.
This animated video (created with Vyond Studio) is a great example of how leaders can explicitly delineate channels to improve team communications. If you’re already a Vyond user, you can use this video as a template and customize it for your organization.
Email Is No Longer King As Messages Can Lead to Mix-ups
More than half (54%) of employees feel emails can lead to miscommunication and unintentional offense (54%). Still, email reigns as the communications leader in workplaces, so it’s critical to arm employees with the skills they need to use it effectively.
Boomers Still Like an Old Fashioned Brainstorm, While Younger Generations Bring Them Virtual
Boomers are more likely to say it’s hard to spark a conversation or brainstorm in text-based messages (51% of boomers, compared to 48% of Gen X, 46% of Millennials and 37% of Gen Z). Organizations and team leaders should provide guidance on the preferred method for sparking ideas to help bridge the gap.
How do we make it easier for employees to avoid the frustrations of communication channels? Addressing it directly in an easy-to-understand and visually appealing format is key.
How Leaders Must Pivot their Communications
As the workforce grapples with everything that’s different – changing workplace norms, varying levels of adaptation to remote work and the reliance on virtual communication tools – it’s critical for leaders to communicate differently and adapt to these employee preferences:
Accommodate Employee Preferences by Pressing Record
56% of employees say they prefer to watch a company announcement or communication on their own time instead of attending a live session.
As Employees Are Inundated with Emails and Chats, It’s Better to Lean on Video for Corporate Announcements
52% of employees prefer to watch/listen to a company announcement or communication instead of reading an email or blog post.
A visual format is even more preferred when it comes to CEO communications. 57% of employees say video messages from the company’s CEO are more engaging than text-based messages.
Remote workers have a stronger preference for video than non-remote workers. Remote workers find video messages from their company CEO significantly more engaging than text-based messages (65% vs 49%).
The New Normal Needs New Communication Tactics
Beyond making employee communications easier to consume, video allows companies to address the complexities of today’s workplace with nuance. That includes everything from communicating around return to work to announcing pandemic-related benefits with the understanding that it impacts everyone differently. Plus, video isn’t only reserved for leadership communication – it can also help enhance communication between departments (by helping spark or brainstorm or livening up a meeting invite with smaller animations or even used to introduce new employees), as well as driving engagement with employee training. Here are some of our favorite examples:
Vyond customers can use these videos (and more!) as templates to create their own animated videos for internal communications. If you’re already a Vyond customer, you can explore all our templates in the Vyond Video Template Library.