CEO and Executive Creative Director at Tribe, Inc., working with global brands to build employee engagement.
Back in March, most companies thought they were sending employees home to work for a couple of weeks. Now, it’s looking like many corporate employees will be working remotely for the foreseeable future.
What does that mean for the future of work, and how does it change what employees need from their employers? In early July, we surveyed over 250 employees around the country who typically work in an office but are currently working from home during the pandemic. This is what we learned.
Most Employees Want To Keep Their Home Offices
Over 50% of respondents said that even after it’s safe to return to the office, when there’s a vaccine or after the pandemic subsides, they’d still prefer to work a combination of some days in the office and some at home. And 23% said they’d like to continue working at home full-time. Only 25% of respondents said they want to return full-time to the office.
Avoiding the commute seems to be a major factor for some. We received many comments about the time savings, with some saying they gained an hour or so a day, and others even larger chunks of time, like this one: “Ordinarily I have a 120-mile daily commute, round trip. Not having to spend three to four hours commuting every day significantly improves my overall quality of life.”
Even With Kids At Home, It Can Be Easier
Part of the draw seems to be improved work-life balance. Half of the respondents said that working from home makes work-life balance easier for them, although we also received comments like: “I’m working all hours of the day and night,” and “There isn’t much separation of when to turn off work and do life again.”
We expected that balance would be trickier to achieve for those with children at home who need their attention during the day, but in this group, the percentage who have found that working from home makes work-life balance easier was slightly higher, at 54%, compared to the group overall.
There were comments from working parents who found it more difficult though. From a parent of a 3-year-old and a 6-year old, we heard: “It’s complicated, especially with no school.” Another shared that “balancing kids, family life and trying to be productive is not easy.”
For some, family responsibilities extend beyond children. One respondent said that working from home makes it easier for her to care for her 87-year-old mother who lives with her, but another complained of the distractions created by “three needy dogs.”
It’s Easier To Focus But Harder To Collaborate
When asked what types of work are more and less difficult when working from home, solo activities seem to be benefiting. About 48% said work that requires focused thinking is easier, while 44% find it easier to meet their deadlines, and 32% are having an easier time with work that requires creativity or innovation.
On the other hand, 33% of respondents are finding it more difficult to do work that requires focused thinking. “It’s just so much harder to be motivated,” said one respondent.
Not unexpectedly, employees are having a much harder time with the sorts of work activities that benefit from being face to face. Work that requires collaborating with others is more difficult at home for 47%, and 45% find it harder to build connections with co-workers when working from home. Interacting with one’s team is more difficult, according to 38% of respondents, with an increased need for scheduled meetings rather than “being able to yell into each other’s offices.”
What Employees Need Now
In an earlier survey we conducted with large companies regarding their response to the pandemic, nearly 60% said they may decide they don’t need all the office space they have, which could result in some major cost savings. And keeping employees happy while working from home indefinitely may not require huge investments.
When asked what their company could do to help them thrive working remotely for the long term, respondents indicated that they primarily want the basic tools required to do their jobs — 53% would like the company to provide the right home office equipment, such as a monitor, desk chair or printer. Connectivity, of course, is also a priority, with 48% saying it would help if the company paid for a better internet connection at home.
Responses To The Pandemic May Have Increased Engagement
One of the measures we look at when gauging employee engagement is whether an employee would recommend their company to a friend as a great place to work. In this survey, half the respondents said there had been no change in whether they’d recommend their company. But 31% said they were more likely to recommend their employer now than they were before the pandemic.
Comments included: “I think my company handled the pandemic as best they could and tried their best to keep everyone’s best interests in mind,” “The way my company has handled the pandemic makes them a desirable company to work for,” and “They were wonderful working with us during the pandemic.”
Like any crisis, the pandemic clarifies the company culture. As we often tell our clients, your true company values are the ways in which you collectively respond to the world, especially when under stress.
Even after the pandemic is behind us, employees are likely to expect the option of working from home. As far as your company is able, giving employees the flexibility and the tools to work where they feel most effective will benefit both productivity and engagement.
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Author: Elizabeth Baskin, Forbes Councils Member