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Remote work and well-being in a Post-COVID world

As we begin to consider a post-COVID world, organizations are starting to think differently about what work will look like going forward. For many, COVID has brought its own set of challenges beyond our approach to work, giving us the opportunity to connect and learn.

This March marked one year since COVID-19 was announced as a national emergency within the US and the one-year anniversary of many of us finding ourselves bringing our work home with us. March 2020 brought an end to dedicated workspaces, lunch outings with colleagues, and commuting in traffic - instead, it kicked off a new chapter for many, which involved sharing the office with a different set of co-workers: family. Cameos of kids, spouses, and pets became commonplace and, by the end of 2020, apologies were no longer needed for going on mute or having babies on the lap of meeting participants. In a single year, remote work turned into the new "normal" for many, with one recent study estimating that 70% of white-collar workers are now working remotely [1].  The question is: will things go back to the way we worked pre-COVID or did 2020 kick off a new way of working moving forward?

As we begin to consider the realities of a post-COVID world, organizations are starting to think differently about what work will look like going forward. Overall, sentiment around moving towards remote work has been positive, with 80% of employers indicating they believe the shift to remote work has been successful [2]. This positive perspective has resulted in employers considering the possibilities of a new working environment norm, with companies expecting about 40% of their employees to follow a remote-working model in the future [3]. But how do employees feel about this? What impact has working from home had on employees and how receptive will people be to the possibilities of continuing to work remotely post-COVID?

What are the benefits of working remotely?

For employees, there have been a few notable benefits in shifting to a work-from-home environment:

  1. Time and Schedule Flexibility - For one, commuting to the next room versus the next town gives time back that would otherwise be spent in-between work and home. That time enables many to build flexibility into when and how they work; mid-day walks with the family dog, lunch breaks, workouts, and scheduling time blocks for family responsibilities have made more frequent appearances on people's daily schedules over the last year. Moving to a remote environment has given more employees the ability to work in a way that better fits their needs -- something a strict 8-5 PM schedule may not have otherwise provided.
  2. Improved Productivity on Individual Tasks - In addition to the benefit of time and flexibility, working remotely has also had positive effects on employee perceptions of productivity.  Having space and less opportunity for social connection has provided many employees more “focus” time on tasks. Around 75% of employees feel they have maintained or improved productivity on individual tasks, since moving to a remote work environment [2].

Nevertheless, working remotely presents some challenges...

Amidst the positive impacts brought on by remote work, there have also been challenges that have emerged with large portions of employees moving to a work-from-home space. 

  1. Collaboration Productivity - While productivity on individual tasks seems to have improved, nearly half of employees working remotely felt their productivity levels decline when it comes to collaborative work tasks. This includes exchanges with coworkers, working in teams, and interacting with clients. Levels of productivity, it seems, are strongly correlated to people’s perceptions of their social connectivity, mental health, physical health, and workplace tools. In the US, employees who are satisfied with their social connectivity with co-workers are 3.2x more likely to feel as productive as when they were in the office. Employees who feel they have the correct tools, as well as those who feel positively about their mental or physical health, are twice as likely to indicate the same or increased levels of collaborative productivity [2]. It will be crucial for employers to consider these factors to unlock productivity on collaborative tasks. Additionally, employers will need to reconsider old ways of thinking when it comes to measuring “true productivity.” In the past, companies may have implicitly linked physical presence to performance, but they will need to change this notion in the new remote environment [3].
  2. Communications - Written and video communication is just not the same as being able to talk with someone in-person; it is easy to misunderstand someone’s intended meaning, resulting in added stress, energy, and time to resolve. Informal coaching moments, which may have happened spontaneously at the end of a meeting or passing in a hallway, are not as readily available. Digital communication tools can make sensitive coaching conversations feel a bit clinical or disconnected. With remote work environments, it is critical for leaders to take a more deliberate approach to coaching and growth conversations [3]
  3. Relationship Building - Perhaps one of the largest challenges in remote work is creating authentic connections with co-workers. Onboarding to a new team in a virtual world can be especially challenging. It is difficult to replicate the spontaneity of the “water cooler moment” or the camaraderie created by an impromptu lunch, a hallway conversation, or even a fire drill [2]. It is seemingly easier and more straightforward to do this in an office setting with all the right people, tools, and training at your fingertips. Employees with the least amount of professional experience (0-5 years), are more likely to value meeting with managers or company training programs than their more experienced colleagues and may struggle without the ability to connect in-person. 34% of employees in this group have felt less productive while working remotely and 30% prefer being remote no more than one day a week [4]. Trying to gain experience, make connections, and progress on a new project in a virtual environment requires new ways of thinking and communicating. 

How can companies overcome these challenges?

So, how do we ensure effective stakeholder engagement in an environment increasingly reliant on remote work? Beyond that, how do we allow for employees to feel a sense of belonging and connection when most of our workforce is dispersed? Here are a few things to consider when optimizing to a full or hybridized remote workplace model: 

  1. One size DOES NOT fit all - Regardless of the approach, each company, business unit, team, or organization has different requirements or restraints for implementing a remote work model. Whatever the goal, it is important to understand why and how remote work might be helpful for your team/organization and consider the potential impacts it may have on each employee.

Now more than ever, employees have more influence to determine their ideal work environment - with measured impact on well-being, a flexible work environment can result in happier and healthier employees. While remote work is becoming a necessary adaptation for businesses, recognizing both its potential benefits and limitations is key to staying agile and flexible in a post-COVID world. 


  1. Focus on HOW work is done, not WHERE work is done - Resist the urge to compare new systems of communication and stakeholder engagement to the pre-COVID ways of working; the way we work today is much different than the way we worked previously. As companies implement remote work models, finding new ways to engage is crucial to capturing the quality of interaction and collaboration that is necessary for an interpersonal business. 

Beyond obtaining a certain level of productivity, social connectivity and belonging are foundational to creating a consistent culture within your company. To be successful, it will remain important to constantly re-evaluate the effectiveness of each new engagement approach - the outcome of this iterative evaluation will produce important lessons for companies as they reformulate, rather than replicate, office work [3].


  1. Be INTENTIONAL and be AUTHENTIC - The ease of encountering other people within our workplace has been greatly disrupted. The fear of losing the interpersonal element inherent to in-person office work has each of us looking for connection in other channels. The key to overcoming this challenge is to intentionally create moments for connection, despite it feeling unnatural or uncomfortable. 

Within these moments of interpersonal connection, it is equally important to present our authentic selves, to seek connection based on who we are, and how we truly feel. Creating intentional moments for authentic connection will not only preserve some level of interpersonal interaction but will also support a higher degree of well-being for employees who practice it [6]


For many, COVID has brought its own unique set of challenges beyond our approach to work, giving us the opportunity to connect and learn from shared experiences, struggles, and hopes for the future. Taking the time to acknowledge and embrace these experiences can help us consider the next steps for each of us. As a consulting company that is embracing a remote work/hybrid model ourselves, we are thinking a lot about how various remote work models might meet or hinder the needs of our clients. This month marked an opportunity for us to look inward to better understand what our own colleagues need and how we can apply those learnings and perspectives both within Sia Partners and with our clients. As your organization looks ahead, what learnings can be gained from your own employees’ experience over the last year? How can employee well-being fit into the future work model for your team? And, how can we help your organization as you consider how best to meet workspace needs moving forward?