USC Annenberg Relevance Report says the workplace will stay hybrid and flexible in 2023

The USC Annenberg Relevance Report took a look at what could be on the horizon.

With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the realities of work changed forever for millions of people across the country. Workers took their jobs home, and many realized that they could perform their assigned tasks just as, if not more effectively from the comfort of their residence. But with the introduction of vaccines and other COVID safety measures, more and more companies are asking their employees to return to their physical offices on at least a part-time basis. As we head into 2023, it’s worth taking a look at the factors that are leading the decision-making processes surrounding work situations and more, and what changes could potentially lie ahead. Thanks to USC Annenberg’s Relevance Report, we’ve got a preview into what the future of work could look like.

Finding a middle ground

Towards the end of 2021, many companies instituted some form of a return to the office. Since many organizations wanted to ease their employees back into in-person work after more than a year away (whether or not this was their choice or due to employee pushback is up for debate), hybrid situations took rise, with employees in the office two or three days a week. But with some companies such as Twitter under new leader Elon Musk demanding that employees return to their desks five days a week, a fight could loom on the horizon.

There are a few things that can be drawn from this as a comms pro. First, before your organization makes any sort of final decision on where employees can perform their jobs, get a sense of how they feel about it. Do they prefer working from home because it enables them to have a greater work-life balance? Do they miss the daily interactions they had with their colleagues pre-pandemic? Whatever the case is, it’s necessary to get a feel for what makes each employee perform their best. When an employee is comfortable in their work, they’re much more likely to do better work.

We also need to consider the demography behind who wants to or is able to return to the office.

According to the report:

Younger employees — more comfortable with technology and communicating and collaborating digitally — are less interested in full-time work in person. They are seeking out jobs that allow or encourage remote workdays.

Women, always left with a disproportionate share of housekeeping and childcare, are more interested in flexible schedules. Team members who want to get ahead and one day run the company (of all ages and genders) want to be in front of their bosses where their commitment to work can be seen close-up.

Everybody has different reasons for wanting their work arrangements, and they often depend on factors like age, location, and more. No matter the case, however, we should take these instances on an individual basis and work with what’s best for each employee, regardless of demographics. It’s just a fact that some employees are always going to want to be remote or hybrid after realizing they were more productive or comfortable, and it’s a matter of meeting them where they are.

Flexibility is key for all

No matter the decision a company makes, it should take care to treat individual situations on its own merit. No two people have the exact same extenuating circumstances as to where they’re working, and this should be respected. This flexibility also can carry over to other parts of the business to make positive impacts.

According to the Annenberg report, flexibility doesn’t just help with work-life balance, it can also assist in bridging the gender gap at work as well. The report revealed that 41% of working mothers felt the need to hide the struggles they had with caregiving at home from their employers. In a world in which we want people to be able to bring their full selves to work, this is a discouraging statistic.

The report explains:

Additionally, parents with young children who have access to quality childcare providers are spending more money on childcare than ever before. Based on the 2022 Cost of Care Survey, 72% of parents say they are spending at least 10% of their household income on childcare, with a majority (51%) spending 20% or more. To address these rising costs, one in five parents indicated that they are considering leaving the workforce entirely. Typically when deciding which parent should stay at home, the common choice is the mother. For women who are impacted by childcare obstacles, their ability to return to the workforce depends on employers providing real solutions.

Unfortunately, a recent Catalyst-CNBC survey revealed that 41% of working mothers believed they had to hide their caregiving struggles from their employers. Following the pandemic, many working moms now know they want their work experience to include having flexible work options.

According to the Catalyst-CNBC survey, women with childcare responsibilities who have remote work access are 32% less likely to report intending to leave their jobs, compared with women with childcare responsibilities who do not have remote-work access.

This isn’t just a quality of life issue, it’s an issue of equality. If we’re not affording the same benefits to all of our employees, are we truly creating a workplace that values equality? In the post-COVID outbreak world, some of our work adjustments have inadvertently created opportunities for growth. We should focus more on the results people produce than the time they spend tethered to their computers. If we take a more progressive view in this respect, we can create an office culture that truly fosters growth.

Optimizing your communications and avoiding burnout

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of creativity arise around how we communicate. Whether it be the Zoom trivia nights we saw at the beginning of the pandemic or the general rise of video chat software to keep us in touch from afar, organizations needed to stay creative and nimble to keep things on track.  The Annenberg Report points out that this innovative nature can translate to other parts of companies as well as we rethink how we get our messages across in 2023, which isn’t the easiest when fighting against burnout brought on by COVID-era work. When you’re subjected to a barrage of emails or calls due to distance work, it can sometimes be hard to stay mentally well all the time.

The report continues:

The nature of creative communications requires that we stay on top of our scroll, but that doesn’t mean we should be capsized by the deluge. The best insights and the best creative comes when you’re inspired — or outraged — enough to consider and act upon innovative solutions and a wider picture. That perspective is hard to come by when you’re burnt out simply keeping up. So it’s important to step away, whether through a dedicated block of time on the calendar or by reassessing boundaries between you and your scroll. Your work, and your team’s, will be better for it.

Remember to think about the people behind the product. If your employees are burnt out, they’re probably not firing on their best creative cylinders. Take stock of how you’re communicating with your employees and when. Try to draw up boundaries for business comms, and stick to them. These boundaries can help keep a healthy work atmosphere afloat.

In a new year with so much possibility, we should approach it with optimism and a vision for what we want our workplaces to look like. While there’s no way to tell exactly what the future might hold, on the general whole, the patterns laid down in 2022 look poised to continue in 2023. It’ll be interesting to see how work-life trends evolve in the new year, and when that happens, we’ll be here to report back on them.

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night. 

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