People are getting more comfortable with remote work — there has been nearly a 40% increase in the percentage of workers who wish to remain fully remote.
More importantly, we look to the Up and Down to tell us what is UP, what is DOWN and what is NEXT.
What’s on the UP is that people are getting comfortable with remote work. What is driving it is unexpected and will require a different solution than sanitation and social distancing. The workforce isn’t worried about physical health — they are concerned about their own mental health.
NET NET: Prioritizing our mental health has never been more prevalent — momentum for mental health is pinned at 100. One area fueling this momentum is the return to office movement — and what it will mean for employees’ psyche.
At the core of the back to office discussion is the mental health & well-being of workers. Workers (and the media) are fighting for the control that remote work gives them over their lives and time. Now, even as return to office dates are shifting given the new COVID variants, companies are starting to focus on boosting mental health for their employees through evolutions in the office space.
Companies are starting to approach the issue mindfully, innovating on ways to evolve their in-person office environment with an eye toward mental health.
We spent years identifying how employees can bring the office home when they need to… now the biggest insight in office innovations is how to bring the benefits that people like about working from home to the office space.
WHAT’S UP: Return to Office Innovations
Pre-Covid, employees perceived many workplace innovations to be focused on what offices can do to boost productivity and enhance happiness. Think open office plans that encouraged collaboration, direct messaging apps that kept coworkers in constant contact, free food / snacks, game rooms, etc.
NOW workplace evolutions are starting to focus on the benefits of the office that promote mental health — building on emotional and physical benefits like community, perks and boundaries between work life and personal lives. Employers are taking into account what people like about working remotely that can be carried over in office spaces — relaxed dress codes, masseuse visits, paid for lunch, in office fitness, company wide monthly days off, outdoor work areas and remote “destination offices” in desirable locales.
Our analytics show the biggest topics in the return-to-office conversation surround control, mental health and anxiety. 4 out of 10 adults in the U.S. reported feeling symptoms of anxiety and depression. Employees are becoming less tolerable of working at companies that increase their stress levels. They want to maintain the same control over their schedules and environment that they enjoy when working remotely.
WHAT’S DOWN: Our challenge to companies encouraging employees to work in an office again… Stop trying to return to old office ways.
WHAT’S NEXT: Innovate by building on what we all learned to like when working remote throughout quarantine. Strive to create a better office environment — one that humanizes your employees and prioritizes their mental health. Providing benefits that address what everyone loves about the work from anywhere experience will show your workers you value them, and help you retain them.
How evolving the office experience to support mental health hits all 5 drivers of momentum.
POLARIZATION: Empowering & providing employees with choice vs. instilling fear & control
In communicating the benefits of working from the office, companies like Crocs & Apple play to employee empowerment and emphasize the importance of in-person collaboration. On the other hand, more traditional companies like those in finance are playing to fear by making the argument that in-person work is more conducive for those who “hustle”.
DISRUPTION: Flipping company culture on its head — Mental health days, flexibility and work-life balance are in. Working long hours and never taking PTO is on the out.
Rather than putting the burden on the employees to set their own boundaries to achieve work life balance, companies are starting to put structures in place like no meeting days and monthly company wide days off — giving staff an additional day off every month on top of normal benefits.
STICKINESS: Learning from the lasting benefits of working from anywhere… like the ability to work outside or in travel destinations.
Outdoor office space: Landlords are betting that outdoor space will be central to the offices of the future: they are investing in outdoor conference rooms, terraces, and roofs that foster a more balanced and healthy work environment, from both a mental and physical health standpoint.
- Satellite Offices: Some companies are beginning to open “remote” offices in destination locations like Colorado, Utah, Florida, etc — to enable employees the flexibility of working from destination locations while maintaining an in-office experience.
SOCIAL IMPACT: Employer health plans are starting to include mental health.
They are removing typical barriers to seeking help, providing the resources and encouragement that often makes the difference between someone in need getting help vs. not getting it.
- Employer health plans provide access to mental health care and practitioners, and mental health apps can be part of the overall offering.
- “Apps can be most helpful when it comes to mitigating three key barriers to mental health care — cost, access and stigma,” Heinen said. If one or all of these barriers are discouraging employees from seeking help, then an app can become even more important.
- Apps are benefitting both the employees in need of support AND their managers — reducing the burden on managers who see employees struggling with emotional and mental health issues. Remote work, homeschooling children, financial worries and concerns about the future can upend even the most consistent workers and their performance. “These issues are not necessarily work-related, and managers are not trained to deal with them,” said Brigitte Saria, chief people and infrastructure officer.
INNOVATION: Companies are taking advantage of innovative health & wellness apps, providing corporate memberships to apps like Peloton, BetterUp, Talkspace, Calm, and Lyra Health for their employees.
- Peloton: Peloton’s Corporate Wellness offering lets companies offer subsidized Peloton Digital and All Access Memberships,customized enterprise features and “exclusive benefits” for connected products. Part of Peloton’s goal is to help foster employee bonding — you can use scheduled Sessions to invite fellow workers to shared fitness classes.
- BetterUp: New AI-based technology is being developed to help with mental health treatment — even identifying those in need of it before things escalate. BetterUp, a company focused on personal and professional goal coaching whose Chief Impact Officer is Prince Harry, has developed a proprietary feature called IdentifyAI that uses AI to identify the right employees for coaching.
- Talkspace: An online therapy platform, Talkspace matches users with licensed therapists in their states. In addition to individual subscriptions, the company also partners with employers to provide therapy to employees, through both EAPs and behavioral health benefits.
- Calm: Calm is a downloadable app that offers audio content for sleep, meditation, and relaxation. Available directly to patients, Calm also partners with companies to improve employee mental well-being by reducing stress and anxiety, promoting better sleep, and enhancing mindfulness.
- Lyra Health provides employers with an easy way to track the overall mental health of their employee population, with metrics like utilization rates, satisfaction rates, and improvement rates. Lyra also provides the employer with insights into the platform’s effectiveness. Employers can view metrics of member utilization and satisfaction, along with recovery and improvement rates. A healthcare data analytics platform like Artemis Health can integrate data from a program like Lyra, track the effectiveness, and compare to medical and Rx feeds to track overall performance.
WATCHOUT: While providing corporate access to benefits like mental health apps is certainly a step in the right direction, this new frontier in mental health care is rife with debate, especially when it comes to the workplace. Questions about privacy/confidentiality and the risk of employees using mental health apps instead of actual therapy, rather than on top of actual therapy, abound.
Privacy concerns include:
- HIPAA, the federal health data law, doesn’t apply to all the information collected by the apps.
- CR’s testers observed apps sharing unique IDs, specific to a particular smartphone, with several companies, including Facebook.
- Privacy policies don’t always make it clear what kind of data could be shared, and how it could be used.
- Employer health plans provide access to mental health care and practitioners, and mental health apps can be part of the overall offering. It’s important to note, however, that such apps are meant to supplement those resources, not replace them.