When the world found itself grappling with COVID-19 in the infamous spring of 2020, most businesses had to switch to telecommuting in an attempt to sustain amid the imminent crisis.
And while there have sprung countless articles since then that claim employees grew hyper-efficient when working from home, some skeptics—including Laszlo Bock, the former HR chief at Google—say remote work might not be sustainable in the long run.
That's why at LiveCareer, we've decided to put in some elbow grease to see how working professionals feel about WFH both physically and mentally nearly a year in, whether they want to return to the office or continue to stay in a remote capacity for good. And if (or when) employees do return to conventional offices, what perks they'd like to see as part of the office offering.
Tapping into the proverbial wisdom of the crowds, we polled over 1,000 Americans on their remote work experiences and stumbled upon more than one hidden gem.
Physical, Social, and Emotional Costs of Telecommuting
For most working professionals, the transition to the digital nomad lifestyle was quite sudden. In essence, we were all muscled into WFH without having much time to prepare for the jump. On top of that, most companies expected employees to deliver on their pre-pandemic goals while juggling the stressors brought on by the disturbing circumstances.
But—while few could keep their head above the water at first, things seem to have changed by now, based on our study's findings:
- 81% of employees today enjoy working remotely.
- 65% state remote work has positively affected their work-life balance.
- 60% of working professionals have grown more productive while working from home.
- 45% of Americans don't feel telecommuting has taken a toll on their mental well-being (except for employees in manufacturing that seem to have suffered more damage compared to other industries, with nearly 60% of the respondents arguing their mental well-being has deteriorated since they have started to work from home.)
One explanation for it could be that most of us have just gotten into the swing of things. Over time, we've learned to deliver on our amalgamated goals without sharing a physical space with coworkers, tame our attention-hogging pets that often want to nestle on the laptop keyboard, and generally keep our productivity levels up. Other reasons include,
- Flexibility - 64%
- Improved work-life balance - 44%
- Feeling safer - 40%
- Being more productive - 29%
- Being able to acquire new career-related skills - 10%
Interestingly, for working professionals in the retail, wholesale, and distribution sectors, improved feeling of safety plays a more central role, arguably due to the nature of their day-to-day work, with as many as 59% of said workers (vs. 40%) claiming they feel safer when working from home.
It's also noteworthy that self-employed professionals report significantly higher satisfaction rates with remote work (92% vs. 81%) than the rest of the polled professionals, and particularly those in the education sphere (65%). Perhaps, it's because Americans who work for themselves had made a conscious choice to engage in telecommuting rather than being muscled into it back when the pandemic started to wreak havoc on a global scale.
But—it's not all sunshine and roses.
Like most things in life, remote work too has its pros and cons. Below are some of the core challenges associated with telecommuting that employees experience:
- Home distractions - 59%
- Staying motivated - 45%
- Communication - 37%
- Collaboration - 36%
- Loneliness - 35%
- Unplugging after work - 32%
- Executing on deliverables well - 15%
- Lack of creativity - 11%
With regard to the challenges, it's important to point out that while communication doesn't seem to be an issue for most working professionals, it's certainly a more prominent obstacle for larger organizations that employ 500–1000 workers (19% increase compared to the rest.)
The Sustainability of Remote Work
At this point, we wanted to dig deeper and examine the relationship between remote employees and the workplace, and if remote work is a sustainable model after all.
For starters, we asked working professionals that currently work remotely due to COVID-19 if the communication with their direct managers has changed. Our respondents say it (has):
- Hasn't changed - 46%
- Improved - 31%
- Deteriorated - 23%
That's not all that surprising after all, given that most managers tapped into the videoconferencing technology that helped them hold one-on-one meetings with direct reports from the comfort of their home, and ultimately, keep their finger on the pulse. For that very reason, nearly half (46%) of Americans are more aware of what's expected of them as they work remotely compared to when they plugged away in the office.
It also turns out that a full 63% of remote employees have preserved a sense of belonging to their organizations despite working from home, with only 13% of workers disagreeing and 24% being neutral. Exceptions are Millennials (23%), retail, wholesome, and distribution employees (26%) who either disagree and strongly disagree they feel connected to their employer.
But—when we asked remote staffers about the amount of feedback they now receive, things started to crumble a bit:
A full 50% of remote staff agree (35%) or strongly agree (15%) with the following statement: "I don't get as much feedback now compared to when I worked onsite."
Perhaps, that's because remote employees no longer get to share a physical space with direct managers and coworkers who could often see their day-to-day grind. As a result, staffers might feel their contributions go unseen. To counterbalance it, employers need to create a recognition-rich environment and place greater emphasis on holding regular 1:1s with employees, making the most of peer-to-peer recognition, and providing tangible rewards for stellar performance (e.g., gift cards to local restaurants, access to online courses).
Finally, we asked working professionals if they feel remote work has affected their chances of getting a promotion and/or a raise.
As many as 54% of Americans report remote work didn't impact their ability to climb the ladder or receive a pay raise. Another 28% state telecommuting actually improved their odds of getting promoted and/or receiving a heftier paycheck vs. 18% who claim it's deteriorated them.
It's also worth noting that younger workers feel more strongly their chances of getting a promotion or a raise have improved compared to older workers (34% vs. 24%). On top of that, professionals in such industries as business and finance (37%), manufacturing (43%), and IT (35%) also report better career prospects compared to other sectors. Perhaps, it's because said industries have historically made good use of technology, which now enables them to spotlight their contributions to line managers with ease.
What also struck us as intriguing is that only 13% of Americans who work for powerhouses employing 1,000+ employees state that switching to telecommuting positively affected their career prospects, with 70% of them claiming it's made no difference.
Do Telecommuters Want to Switch Back Onsite?
Most of us likely have mixed feelings about remote work. While some look forward to going back to the brick-and-mortar office, others are somewhat on the fence, as one of our respondents says,
There's NOTHING that will ever make me go back. Dear God, I get to work in my pajamas, from the comfort of my couch with no commute, doing tasks when and how I choose. They'd have to offer me $500,000 a year with only one day in the office a week to get me even to budge!
That said—a full 79% of working professionals state their company plans to return to onsite work eventually. In contrast, 61% of employees want their employer to let them work remotely indefinitely even after the pandemic is over. An exception to this includes Americans in the education, retail, wholesale, and distribution sectors, only 50% and 51% of whom respectively want to continue working from home after the COVID-19 crisis is over.
But if going back to the office is inevitable, how many days a week would professionals like to be office-based?
- Three days - 30%
- Two days - 25%
- One day- 19%
- Four days - 9%
At this point, we wanted to roll the dice and ask the respondents if they'd quit their job if not allowed to continue working remotely with their current employer—as many as 29% said, 'YES." That's somewhat in line with Owl Labs' 2020 report on the state of remote work that claims one in two people won't return to jobs that don't offer remote work after COVID-19.
On top of that, a full 62% of remote staff also agree or strongly agree with the following statement: "In the future, I'll give preference to employers that offer remote work."
Interestingly, IT professionals are more likely to start looking for greener pastures if their employer doesn't let them stay in a remote capacity once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror (35% vs. 29%). That said, it couldn't be further from the truth for retail, wholesale, and distribution employees, with only 7% of them claiming they'll be willing to change jobs if their company insists on bringing them back to the office.
Lastly, before wrapping it up, we took the time to ask working professionals if there are any perks that would encourage them to return to the office if they are reluctant to do so now. We slid under the microscope a little over 1,000 responses, and here are the most-commonly mentioned perks that might help win back telecommuters (in no particular order):
- Free food/snacks and coffee
- More paid time off
- Pay raise
- Reimbursed commute
- More flexible schedule
- Higher safety precautions for COVID-19
- Improved office space (e.g., a better chair, private office)
- More opportunities to socialize with colleagues
- Casual dress code
- Fewer working hours (arguably to account for extra commute time)
Unsurprisingly, money came out on top (by a wide margin) as the driving force behind employees' willingness to return to a physical space. That goes hand in hand with ResumeLab's remote work statistics rundown that states 61% of remote workers would expect a pay rise if they were no longer allowed to work from home.
We surveyed 1,022 respondents online via a bespoke polling tool that have been working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All respondents included in the study passed an attention-check question. The study was created through several steps of research, crowdsourcing, and surveying.
The data we are presenting rely on self-reports from respondents. Each person who took our survey read and responded to each question without any research administration or interference. There are many potential issues with self-reported data like selective memory, telescoping, attribution, or exaggeration.
Some questions and responses have been rephrased or condensed for clarity and ease of understanding for readers. In some cases, the percentages presented may not add up to 100 percent; depending on the case, this is either due to rounding or due to responses of "neither/uncertain/unknown" not being presented.
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