NEXT Energy Report: How Buildings Need to Change to Suit a Climate-Conscious, COVID-Weary Workforce

It was over a year ago that America’s workforce went virtual. What started as a two-week effort to flatten the curve turned into many remote workers’ new ideal reality. With the exception of a few, employees do not want to give up their home offices. But what happens when their bosses call them back? Newly empowered employees cannot simply be ordered to return.


Decision-makers must make a case for the office space, and fast. NEXT Energy Technologies conducted a survey to investigate how companies are managing this difficult process. We surveyed more than 450 remote employees and more than 150 senior managers and C-suite decision-makers across business verticals. The results show employees are coming to the table with strong convictions for what the next era of in-person work should look like.


A New Power Pyramid

Remote work works. Our survey found that a majority of decision-makers (85%) and employees (79%) believe that company productivity has either stayed the same or improved since working from home, proving that employees don’t need an office to do their job.


With the office in the rearview, and a new appreciation for their health, more than half of employees (57%) believe that the offices they once frequented had a detrimental effect on their physical health. Most employees believe that their offices compromised their mental health, and a significant portion (37%) said that their primary health concern when reflecting on their previous office space was a lack of natural light.


Bringing Employees Back Into the Fold

Employees are willing to be brought back into the office — but not without changes. Having survived a worldwide health crisis, 82% of this newly empowered workforce want to be involved in how their company handles health and wellness issues. However, less than half of decision-makers said their employees actually do have a say in these matters.


With more than half of employees saying improved health and safety features are what will bring them back, many decision-makers are putting blind hope in increased sanitation and room between desks. However, employees are expecting more. More than a third (39%) want more access to natural light, but this doesn’t match their bosses’ plans. Only 24% of decision-makers said they’d consider improving access to natural light.


This dissent is only the tip of the iceberg. Overall, employees and employers are not on the same page. More than half of employees (66%) said their companies are only meeting some of their expectations of a healthy office if any at all. However, their employers think more highly of themselves — 85% of them believe that their company is meeting some or all of its employees’ expectations.


With their expectations going unmet, employees are ready to leave. Nearly three-quarters of employees would consider leaving their job if their company did not meet their expectations. If companies hope to keep their workforce, they have to figure out how to address employee concerns.


Health and Sustainability Tied Together

Employees’ new outlook on health isn’t limited to just their bodies. They now include the climate as a factor in their health; 83% of employees believe the climate plays a direct role in their individual health, and they want their companies to take this seriously.


Decision-makers know the climate crisis can impact not only the financial aspects of their business but also be a detriment to their employees. They see the rope tying the climate crisis and health together. Many decision-makers (80%) said they would improve their office’s sustainability measures to retain their workforce, but willingness to change does not always mean change occurs. Close to a third (32%) of companies are not taking steps to address the climate crisis.


What’s Next?

For better or worse, workers and leaders are facing a call to change their workplaces. The COVID-19 pandemic acted as a catalyst for change. Whereas once c-suite executives made facility decisions based on their own wants and needs, they now must do so to prevent attrition — listening to employees’ wants and needs in order to protect their workforce.


This change is new. The data points to a power shift — employees are now the ones demanding changes, and instead of putting in blind requests, there’s something for their bosses at stake. This meaningful change points to hope on the horizon, for employees, and for a positive environmental impact.


While the changes to the office employees want are not quick fixes, it is in the best interest of business leaders to exercise their creativity to meet the concerns of their employees. Businesses that are able to do so are positioned to attract and retain a strong, loyal workforce for the future. Businesses that fail to risk experiencing the consequences of a diminished workforce.


For more on this shifting power structure, read our entire report “The Case for Office Space: How Buildings Need to Change to Suit a Climate-Conscious, COVID-Weary Workforce” here.