To return, or not to return, that is the question.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot of things in life, perhaps none bigger than mandating that almost everyone work from home. Now that the vaccine is starting to take hold, business leaders are being asked what their plan is for the return to work and there is certainly no consensus as to what might happen.

Some executives are steadfast in their opinion that employees need to come back to the office. Others are saying people can work from home forever.

Whatever the decision, the fact is we are moving into an era where hybrid work becomes the norm. In my discussions with company executives, the desire to move to this model is centered around worker productivity and costs. The last year or so has proven that people can be as productive at home, or even more productive than they are in the office.

Then there’s the added benefit of shedding expensive office space. While these reasons are certainly sound, there’s a third leg to this stool that must be considered, and that’s employee satisfaction.

Hybrid work is key to the happiness and well-being of employees around the world, according to a recent report from Avaya Inc. called Life and Work Beyond 2020. The report’s findings show COVID-19 has significantly shifted how employees view their place in the world, especially when it comes to where they work and their ability to be productive on their own terms.

Avaya surveyed more than 10,000 people from 11 countries in November 2020 to understand COVID-19’s impact on their attitudes toward home and work life. Only 27% of respondents reported no change in their attitudes between 2019 and 2020, while 43% said they were less happy. Much of the unhappiness is attributed to the lack of interaction with other people and, as expected, concerns for personal health.

However, 62% of the respondents reported being happier since the start of the pandemic because they could work from home. The high level of happiness is attributed to several factors, such as feeling trusted by an employer to be productive at home (57%) and being properly equipped with all the tools needed to work from home (56%).

Organizations were able to adjust to the new normal fairly quickly by shifting their employees to remote work and providing them with everything they need. Employees have responded well and many want to continue working from home post-COVID-19. In fact, 46% of the respondents see “work from anywhere” as a viable model in the future. Six in ten would support government policies that encourage a hybrid work environment.

The findings are not all positive. A little over half of the respondents worry about going back to a fully in-office workday. Business leaders should heed this warning and repeatedly communicate return-to-work plans but be willing to be flexible depending on worker feedback.

Others are concerned about a changing work environment affecting individual jobs, with 45% feeling anxious about automation potentially impacting their roles. Meanwhile, 37% of the respondents feel angry having to work long hours to pay for childcare instead of spending time with their children.

People are increasingly feeling uneasy as a result of digital transformation and worry about losing their freedom. While artificial intelligence and automation have boosted productivity and efficiency, they are also influencing the human aspect of work. In addition to worrying about losing jobs to automation and AI, 43% of the respondents said they were concerned about privacy and being monitored by their employers when working remotely.

This is where employers need to learn to trust people to do their jobs instead of trying to monitor every little activity.  Collaboration providers such as Avaya need to be careful of the capabilities built into their products that can act as “big brother.” Microsoft Corp. recently come under fire for rolling out new features that effectively spy on workers.

My advice to information technology and business leaders is that if you can’t trust workers to do their jobs remotely, then you either have the wrong managers or the wrong workers. If productivity suffers, then address it, but workers need to be given the chance to fail before endless monitoring is implemented.

Nevertheless, people are feeling mostly optimistic about future work and have a renewed focus on their wellbeing. Organizations with a hybrid work model — offering a choice of working from home and at the office—are likely to have happier, more productive employees. The same goes for organizations that equip their employees with the right technologies and connectivity to work remotely. Employees feel inspired and more confident as a result.

As evident from the data, those who are most satisfied with the current state of their work-life have employers that trust, respect and empower them. For organizations, the employee experience will be the main focus as hybrid work models evolve. Organizations that provide a consistent experience for everyone, regardless of where they work, will have the happiest employees.