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Future Forum Pulse summer snapshot

Future Forum data shows that the desire for flexibility has intensified among knowledge workers—and they’re willing to walk to get it

Posted July 19, 2022 by the Future Forum team

Reading time 7 min

Employees continue to want flexibility—in both work location and work schedule—and are willing to change jobs to gain more choice about how they work, according to Future Forum’s summer Pulse study released today. 

Future Forum—a consortium focused on building a way of working that is flexible, inclusive, and connected—conducts research and convenes executives to design a people-centered and digital-first workplace. Each quarter, we survey thousands of workers and managers globally, asking them a series of questions related to productivity, sense of belonging, and preferred ways of working. 

Results from our most recent survey, conducted in May 2022, reveal that the trends identified in previous Pulse releases are holding or even intensifying. The data is clear: knowledge workers continue to want flexibility, and if they don’t get it, they’re far more likely to leave their job. 

“Today’s workplace environment is centered around flexibility, and employees without it remain at a strong risk of attrition. Companies looking to build productive, successful teams need to think about how they provide flexibility not only in where but also when people work.”

Brian Elliott, Vice President (he/him)

Brian Elliott, Executive Leader of Future Forum

The summer Pulse answers critical questions business leaders are asking as they navigate how to create more flexible, inclusive, and connected workplaces where all employees can thrive. 

We’ve gathered below a selection of key takeaways from the survey. For more data and in-depth analysis, view the full Future Forum Summer Pulse report. 

Where are people working, and how do they feel about it?

The trend of knowledge workers being pulled back into the physical office held steady this quarter. Thirty-four percent of knowledge workers say they’re now working full time from the office—matching the record high reached in February 2022.

The number of people working in a hybrid arrangement increased four percentage points from 45% to 49%, as full-time remote work arrangements dropped from 21% to 18%. 

The preference for flexible work reached an all-time high this quarter, with 55% of knowledge workers preferring to work fewer than three days a week in the office. Full-time in-office workers are the least satisfied with their working arrangements: They report significantly lower employee experience scores compared to hybrid and full-time remote employees, most notably for work-life balance and work-related stress and anxiety. 

The executive-employee disconnect first observed in fall 2021 continues: the C-suite still shows markedly higher scores for employee experience and sentiment compared to individual contributors and middle managers. Executives show 1.3x higher scores for overall satisfaction with their work environment compared to non-executive employees. And non-executives reported 1.5x worse work-related stress and anxiety scores compared to executives.

What the data shows us about flexibility: it’s not just about where you work

Flexibility—structured choice in when and where one works—remains top of mind for employees globally. Knowledge workers continue to rank flexibility second only to compensation in terms of job satisfaction. 

Knowledge workers are showing a strong and sustained preference for location flexibility. Eighty percent of all knowledge workers now want flexibility in where they work, including a majority (53%) of full-time in-office workers. 

However, the desire for schedule flexibility remains even more pronounced than the desire for location flexibility. Ninety-four percent of employees want flexibility in when they work, a continuing trend from Future Forum’s previous quarterly survey. At the same time, 57% of employees say they have little to no ability to adjust their hours from a preset schedule. 

Lack of schedule flexibility continues to dramatically impact employee experience scores and increase attrition risk. Knowledge workers who say they have little to no ability to set their hours report 3.4x worse work-related stress and anxiety and 2.2x worse work-life balance compared to those with some level of schedule flexibility.

Employees without flexibility are far more likely to look for new opportunities. While 55% of employees say they are open to looking for a new job in the next year, that percentage jumps to 70% for those who say they are dissatisfied with their current levels of flexibility.

What the data shows us about inclusion: desire for flexibility is highest among parents and employees of color

Flexible work practices are a key component in building inclusive workplaces. While DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) has been a priority for executives over the past two years, it’s important to recognize that future-of-work planning and practices fostering workplace belonging must go hand in hand. 

Consistent with our findings quarter over quarter, the desire for flexibility remains strongest among underrepresented groups. Based on our recent survey, we continue to see a higher preference for location flexibility among employees of color: 88% of Asian/Asian American respondents, 83% of Black respondents, and 81% of Hispanic/Latinx respondents report preferring hybrid or fully remote work arrangements, compared to 79% of white respondents.

Employee experience scores—especially for people of color—have continued to build since the broad adoption of flexible work.

“Underrepresented employees want flexibility in both where and when they work. These employees are crucial to the success of any organization. They feel a stronger sense of belonging and feel more productive when given the choice of how they want to work. Flexible work policies are foundational to a company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities.”

Sheela Subramanian, Senior Director (she/her)

Sheela Subramanian, Vice President and Co-Founder of Future Forum

In addition, location flexibility continues to be valuable to parents, including 83% of working mothers—an all-time high for that group. Sixty percent of working mothers now say they want to work flexibly three to five days a week, up from 58% in February. And 50% of working fathers want to work flexibly three to five days a week, up from 48% in February.

With higher preferences for location and schedule flexibility among employees of color and working parents, proximity bias—or favoritism shown to those who work physically together—continues to be a pressing problem. 

As in previous quarters, executives still cite proximity bias as a top concern related to flexible work. This quarter; however, the number of executives who listed it as their number one concern dropped to 31% (down from 41% in February). 

The other top concerns are declining productivity (32% of executives; down from 35% in the previous quarter) and coordination (38% of executives; holding steady from the previous quarter). This may indicate that executives are shifting their focus to the short-term operational challenges of remote work and overlooking the potential for long-term inequities to arise between remote and co-located employees. 

What the data shows us about connection: transparent communication is the key to building community, both physical and digital   

With coordination—the “how” of flexible work—a top-of-mind issue, many executives are thinking closely about the changing role of the office and how to bring people together, both physically and digitally. 

But what draws people to want to come to the office? Consistent with past findings, collaboration and camaraderie are the number one driver that knowledge workers cite, underscoring the need for leaders to think more intentionally about how to devise meaningful in-office gatherings

At the same time, the number of people who say they are motivated to go to the office in order to “put in face time with management” increased markedly this quarter, jumping to 10% of respondents (up from 2% in February), another indicator that proximity bias is a continuing risk. 

The role of technology has shifted as well. Digital platforms are no longer just a productivity-focused supplement to physical in-office work. They’re now a central hub for building deeper connections among coworkers.

Consistent with quarter-over-quarter findings, people who work at companies they describe as technology innovators continue to show higher employee experience scores on all dimensions, including 

  • 1.5x scores on productivity
  • 2x scores on a sense of belonging 
  • 2.5x scores on overall satisfaction

Shifting to a digital-first model will also help leaders build two-way transparency, which continues to be a major contributor to employee experience and sentiment. But your digital HQ is only as strong as your organizational culture, and the data shows that leaders have a ways to go when it comes to building cultures of trust.

While 66% of executives believe they are being “very transparent,” only 43% of employees agree with that statement—a disconnect that has only widened. Transparency and trust—along with flexibility—also affect retention. Employees who perceive their companies to be transparent have 12x greater job satisfaction than employees who have the opposite perception. Knowledge workers who don’t believe their company “is being very transparent regarding post-pandemic remote working policies” are 3.4x more likely to “definitely” look for a new position in the coming year.


The takeaway

Flexibility means a lot more than a day or two a week to “work from home.”

Ninety-four percent of employees globally now want more flexibility in when, not just where, they work. The most successful leaders will go much further than offering occasional remote work days — they will redesign every aspect of how work gets done, from redefining how organizational success is measured to training managers to make it happen.

Here’s what the data shows about how to empower teams with the flexibility and choice they need to do their best work: