RESEARCH REPORT

In brief

In brief

  • The Accenture Future of Work Study 2021 explored what people need to be healthy and productive as we enter a new era of work.
  • A majority of workers (83%) prefer a hybrid work model, but a variety of factors influence their ability to thrive, whether they’re onsite or off.
  • Responsible leaders must move beyond physical location to shape the future of work by giving people resources tailored to their needs.
  • We found that 63% of high-growth companies have already adopted a “productivity anywhere” workforce model.


What is the future of work?

It’s a question many are asking as the collective call to reimagine how and where we work is strong. Our Accenture Future of Work Study 2021 of more than 9,000 workers around the world discovered that most people want a hybrid model, where they sometimes work remotely and sometimes go onsite.

83%

of workers say a hybrid model would be optimal

Why is hybrid so appealing? It brings together the best of both worlds. Those who had a hybrid work model during COVID-19 had better mental health, stronger work relationships and were more likely to feel Net Better Off as a result of working for their organizations. They also experienced less burnout than those who worked entirely onsite or entirely remotely.

We also found that 25% of respondents worked fully onsite throughout the pandemic and are likely to remain onsite, whatever their personal preferences may be. These workers tend to be in the healthcare and retail industries and can be at administrative levels of their organizations.

While optimizing remote work is a priority for many companies, we need to reimagine onsite work life as well.

It’s not about place, it’s about potential

Human resources policies and leadership support have largely catered to onsite workers, but new workforce segments are emerging. Our research finds that organizations are struggling to provide models that satisfy the needs of all workers all the time.

The “typical” employee experience no longer exists.

Asking where people should work in the future might be the wrong question. A better question is: What unleashes a person's potential, enabling them to be healthy and productive, regardless of where they work?

In fact, it’s a critical question, considering that more than half of our respondents have a somewhat or highly negative stance toward the future of work.

This graph depicts the sentiment analysis towards the future of work of survey participants across 140 questions and grouped into clusters based on their level of fatigue and optimism.

Future of work sentiment analysis graph

Productive and healthy workforce, wherever they are

We found that 40% of workers felt they could be healthy and effective whether they were onsite or remote. A small segment of workers felt they couldn’t be efficient or healthy anywhere. Something happened over this past year that has left them feeling disgruntled and apathetic. Negativity has left some unable to be productive. Is the weight of negative work experiences and life stressors too much for this non-productive group of workers to bear? To our surprise, this was not the case. Our most productive individuals were also experiencing burnout, fatigue and frustrations—at times at even higher levels than the non-productive group reported.

What distinguished the 40% was not the lack of negative stressors in their lives, but rather their abundance of resources, at both the individual and organizational level. Having resources nurtures an employee’s wellness and productivity. Challenges in the workplace—and in life—cannot be entirely eliminated. What organizations need to focus on instead is providing the right resources to people, onsite and remotely.

Resources that help people be productive anywhere:

"I can be productive anywhere when I feel I am held to realistic performance expectations, given the freedom to manage my own time and provided with continuous feedback to improve my work."

"I can be productive anywhere when the nature of my work, my colleagues and my organizational culture help me feel positive."

"I can be productive anywhere when I have the opportunity to increase my skill levels across emerging technologies like cloud computing, cyber security, robotics, virtual reality and digital collaboration tools."

"I can be productive anywhere when my organization adopts and communicates policies that will keep me healthy, like routine cleaning and disinfecting workspaces, restricting the number of personnel in the office at one time and ensuring flexible sick leave.”

"I can be productive anywhere when my organization’s leaders display active listening and care and consideration for the well-being, productivity and personal development of workers."

"I can be productive anywhere when my organization has a strong digital vision that is clearly communicated and endorsed through employee training and upskilling opportunities, and encourages the use of digital tools to drive employee innovation, collaboration and mobility."

Reimagine hybrid working to boost business

Optimizing the resources that ensure a healthy and productive workforce, regardless of physical location, can be daunting. Why do we believe it will be a worthwhile goal for organizations to pursue? Because organizations will see bottom-line benefits from having a workforce that is Net Better Off.

63%

of high-growth organizations have enabled productivity anywhere workforce models.

69%

of negative or no-growth companies are still focused on where people are going to physically work (favoring all onsite or remote rather than enable hybrid).

85%

of people who feel they can be productive everywhere say that they plan to stay with their company for a long time.

Inspire the future of work

No one knows exactly what the future will look like, but we do know what workers need to thrive anywhere. Leaders can begin by redefining work policies and strengthening worker-employer relationships.

Accelerate Modern HR

Develop a strategy that ensures workers are Net Better Off as they transition to new workspaces, teams and roles. Cut through new complexities that have emerged to unlock human ingenuity.

Design work around people

There is no one-size-fit-all model, so organizations must respond to the needs of all types of workers. Organizations that support psychological and physical safety will foster trust.

Build digital fluency

Digitally fluent organizations have higher growth and are better places to work. Build digital fluency at all levels, designing tailored skilling and learning paths that serve different needs.

Lead with humanity

Responsible leaders create environments in which the Modern Board, CEO and C-suite make sure workers are Net Better Off. They build a fail-fast culture of ongoing experimentation and improvement.

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Business growth in an uncertain world depends on a resilient and productive workforce. Start building yours today.

About the research

Accenture Research fielded a survey during the month of March 2021 to 9,326 global workers across the following countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Singapore, Sweden, UK, and US and the following industries: Banking, Insurance, Capital Markets, High Tech, Retail, Customer Goods & Services, Public Sector, Healthcare, Communications and Media, Utilities, Energy and Life Sciences. Extensive statistical cluster and regression analyses were completed to determine mindsets of the workforce and what resources were necessary to make people feel healthy and productive remotely, onsite or in hybrid models.

About the Authors

Christie Smith

Lead – Talent & Organization/Human Potential


Yaarit Silverstone

Senior Managing Director – Talent & Organization / Human Potential, Global Strategy Lead & North America Lead


Nicholas Whittall

Managing Director – Accenture Strategy, Talent & Organization, Global Talent & Skilling Co-Lead


David Shaw

Managing Director – Talent & Organization / Human Potential


Kent McMillan

Managing Director – Global Lead, Organizational Development and Europe Lead, Intelligent Operating Model​

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