The State of Remote Work 202030 October 2020
Business-targeted measures taken in response to Covid-19 were not ones that any leader could have seen coming.
The prospect of having entire staff working from home without any real transitional period may have been unfathomable just months ago (what scenario could possibly warrant that?) yet it is the reality that countless business owners and executives have come to know well.
Covid-19 was not a contingency that the typical business had a plan for. Unlike natural disasters, the loss of a seemingly-irreplaceable team member, or unanticipated economic downturns, there was no precedent for dealing with Covid-19. There was no playbook for everyone to be working from home, all at once, indefinitely.
Sure, certain companies had steadily come to embrace remote work, even before the pandemic. It had become for many a feature for attracting young talent, boosting employee morale, and taking advantage of always-improving technology. But even the businesses most bullish on remote work could not have anticipated that their entire team would be relegated to their homes without warning.
It’s now been several months since businesses across the nation and the globe were issued a mandate to evacuate their offices and begin working remotely. As businesses in some states re-transition back into office mode, others remain completely remote.
So what have employees learned about remote work in the past half-year or so? What has worked, and what hasn’t? How has working remotely shaped their opinion on the merits and drawbacks of doing their job from home?
We surveyed 600 American workers, hoping to gain answers to these and other relevant questions. Here’s what they said:
The Bottom Line: Grading Employers’ Transition to Remote Work
We wanted to set the stage by understanding, in a basic sense, how remote workers gauged their employers’ transition into remoteness. There are obvious challenges to managing a remote team rather than one congregated in the same office. So how did employers, by and large, respond to those challenges, often having to do so on the fly?
It turns out, most employees thought their employer did an above-average job at accommodating their remote squad. Perhaps they were answering with more than a pinch of understanding for their employers’ conundrum, but even so, the highest portion of respondents (48%) said that their employer did a “good” job adjusting to remote work. A significant segment of respondents (35.7%) went further, rating their employer’s adaptation to remote life as “amazing”.
Perhaps this should not be particularly surprising. Though businesses were undoubtedly thrown the curveball of all curveballs known as Covid-19, The Wall Street Journal explains how companies such as Domino’s have adapted and thrived amidst the chaos and uncertainty of pandemania.
Business leaders adapt, and they are leaders for a reason. If they couldn’t figure out how to survive the most bizarre of circumstances, they wouldn’t be in business—not for long, at least.
Still, a negligible minority of respondents (1.7%) stated that their employer did a “horrible” job adapting to remote work. 14.7% of polled employees said that their employer did just “okay”. Keep in mind that: a) some employees are difficult to please, and b) that not every business is run well or is suited to remote work.
Overall, it appears that employees are overwhelmingly pleased with how their employers responded to the needs of remote workers. Individual managers and supervisors received similarly high marks for their efforts during the pandemic:
A greater proportion of respondents (3.5% versus 1.7%) described their supervisor’s remote management as “horrible” when compared with how they viewed their company’s overall transition. However, a greater percentage of respondents (49%) described their supervisor’s transition to remote management as “good” when compared with those rating their company’s overall transition as “good” (48%).
These datasets are very similar, and send a clear message: your boss, and their bosses, handled the transition to remote work with downright aplomb.
Handling Your Biz: How Did Remote Workers Grade Their Own Transition?
Employee surveys published by the likes of Microsoft uncovered some emerging concerns as remote work accumulates more data points. The Microsoft survey found that, for some, remaining creative is more difficult in a remote environment.
We also discovered that, while workers have graded their transition to remote work largely positively, they hold very real reservations. Or, at least, they acknowledge the unique challenges that come with remote work.
Those challenges include being distracted more easily in a home setting (the laundry isn’t going to do itself), overworking, missing in-office relationships, and continuing to make work the priority.
Still, remote employees have found a number of benefits from doing their jobs outside of the office. The greatest benefit, according to our respondents, is spending less time in the car, on the train, or in other states of commute. The second-greatest benefit is the increased freedom of remote work (pants optional), while other noted perks include greater work-life balance and improved productivity.
In light of these benefits and drawbacks of working from home, how did the employees we polled feel that their performance graded overall?
Would it surprise you to find out that most employees spoke highly of themselves? Well, they did. 47.8% of respondents said that they did a “good” job adjusting to remote work, while 31% of respondents graded their performance as “amazing”.
Clearly, many feel that adjusting to remote work was a breeze. Still, we can’t help but suspect that some respondents (the “amazing” ones, for starters) might be undercounting those extra-long lunch breaks and spontaneous fetch seshes with the dog when grading their productivity.
Perhaps these self-starters simply mastered the skills needed to thrive in a remote environment. According to respondents, those skills include self-motivation, self-management, strong communication, the ability to “disconnect”, and problem solving. Of these, employees valued self-management (44%) and self-motivation (29%) as most important:
The largest share of respondents (46%) felt that they were more productive working remotely than when they were in an office. 28.5% of respondents believed they were equally productive in each setting, while a significant number of employees (21.8%) felt that remote working had made them less productive:
Factoring in that commute times may have been significantly reduced by remote work, it is a significant finding that more than one-fifth of respondents thought they were less productive when working out-of-office. It is also noteworthy that so many respondents felt more productive working from home.
This collection of findings may suggest that:
Some employees may benefit from the freedom of remote work, while others may find the structure of the office more appealing
The distraction is real, and there may be more distractions at home
There is value in peer relationships fostered in an office setting
Cutting down on commute time can be very valuable
There are both merits and drawbacks to working from home
The tools that employees were provided (or were not provided) to aid their remote work may have had some effect on the relative value that respondents found in working from home.
Set Up For Success: How Did Employers Do at Providing Remote Working Tools?
Some might say you’re only as good as the tools at your disposal. What is a writer without a pen, a carpenter without a hammer, or a baker without an oven, after all?
For that matter, what is a remote worker without a Zoom account, a high-speed internet connection, or any of the other tools that make remote work…work?
We polled our employee-respondents to find out how their setups affected their work, for better or worse.
58% of respondents were given some sort of budget-related to remote work, with some more modest than others:
It appears as if some employees may have been given new or additional laptops by their employers, as this would account for the lofty budgets and was revealed to be the primary way (nearly 70%) respondents got their remote work done. 22.7% of employee-respondents used a desktop to do most of their work, while 7.5% of respondents used either a tablet or phone:
Not everyone has a home office, but remote workers made it work nonetheless. In fact, only 24.5% of respondents did their remote work in a dedicated office. The rest made due with what they had, which was either a bedroom, living room, dining room, or kitchen:
This variety in terms of where remote workers physically do their work reinforces something that, while seemingly obvious, we may soon begin to lose sight of: a home is not, in fact, an office. Though you may have an office within a home, they are not the same thing.
A home and office differe in many ways, from their overall aesthetic, to the number of people they can accommodate, and the distractions that they present. As we ponder the future of remote work and what it means for individuals not just employees, but also as humans, we must keep a realistic view of the benefits and drawbacks of remote work.
Employees said it themselves: a private, dedicated workspace remains critical to productivity:
Given a Choice, Do Employees Choose Remote or In-Office Working?
The responses that we received from employees forced to transition from full-time office workers to full-time remote workers shined a light on the pros and cons of remote work. While many felt more productive at home, a significant portion did not.
Even with the purported benefits of remote work, a significant portion of respondents (26.8%) said that they would be “very happy” if told their office was open for business, while 13.3% said they would be “kind of happy”.
Many were conflicted, with 32.2% of respondents stating that they would have mixed emotions. Without further information, employees may recognize the benefit of working next to their dog but also realize that there is very value to being in an office setting.
Only 18.3% of respondents said that they would be “very sad” about going back into the office, while 7.2% would be “a little sad”:
There appears to be distinctly divided opinions about whether working in an office or from home is preferable. To make the divide even more acute, we asked respondents to crystallize their feelings about remote work.
45.3% of respondents said that they “would never be able to work full-time in an office again” due to the perks of remote working. A nearly equal amount of respondents (42%) said that they prefer working in an office despite the benefits of working from home. Only 7.7% of respondents did not enjoy working remotely and want to return to a full-time office ASAP:
In response to this mixed bag of love for remote work but yearning for the perks of the office, we ask: why not both?
The Way Forward: The Hybrid Work Model
Our survey’s findings may reinforce something you have already felt on a personal level: that working from home is nice…once in a while. Being completely remote can lead to legitimate issues like creative block, disconnection from co-workers, and lack of definition between your home life and professional life. But, every once in a while, working in your pajamas ain’t such a bad idea.
This is a conclusion being reached by employees the world over, and industry leaders are responding with new, hybrid work models. Google CEO Sundar Pichai has advocated for such a hybrid model, per Forbes. Think: three days on, two days off, or vice versa.
It appears to be the middle ground between two opposing views represented by JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon, who ordered bankers back to the office in September, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who has said its employees can work at home “forever”.
Our findings indicate that, while some employees might choose to never work in an office again and others might choose to commute to an office every day of the week, the majority of employees likely prefer a combination of at-home and in-office work. It is a sort of professional balance that falls in line with the work-life balance so many companies espouse, but few actually achieve.
This hybrid model may:
Allow employees to consistently realize the benefits of working both in-office and at-home at regular intervals
Allow for a less jarring effect should employees be forced to work remotely full-time under circumstances similar to those experienced this year
Allow employees to tailor their work life to fit their own needs and personalities
Ultimately produce a more productive, satisfied workforce
Every company is different, as is every employee. While there is no accurate, generalized answer to whether remote work or in-office work is the superior option, consider that a hybrid option may have the greatest ability to accommodate the different working styles that exist within any given company.