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Every generation has its defining moment, and the current COVID-19 pandemic will continue to redefine our society and working environment for years to come. However, in the days when change was occurring, what was the experience of the average employee who suddenly found themselves working at home, perhaps for the first time ever?
Bay Leaf Digital wanted to document the moment. Throughout May 2020, we gathered nearly 800 respondents from North America to respond to a market research survey on remote working experiences during the pandemic, both from an individual and a managerial perspective.
The Work From Home Experiment
Respondents came from more than 30 disciplines, with the two most common being information technology and education at 14 and 10 percent, respectively. Of course, the question every company wants answered is whether employees themselves find their “work from home” experiment to be a success. The results found that 46% were able to work successfully for the most part with some distractions or were half as productive. Only 6% of respondents reported as being significantly under-productive or not productive at all.
Another finding was consistent across all disciplines and levels of productivity: More than 64 percent said that working from home has added at least one more hour to their workday. It appears this additional time is going toward the following:
- Work collaboration tools and processes (64 percent said they spent at least one more hour using collaboration tools when working at home vs. working in the office. Specifically, a majority of senior managers are spending more time collaborating than ever before.)
- Time-reporting tools and processes
- Traditional work activities that just take longer from home such as email and instant messaging.
While putting in an additional hour of work every day would not be considered a plus under normal circumstances, employees did see many offsetting benefits to working from home (see below).
Want to see the full breakout of how much more time individual contributors, middle management and senior management spent collaborating? Download our full work from home survey insights to find out.
Technology: What Works, What Doesn’t
It appears that companies have stepped up to help their employees work from home; 65 percent of participants reported using company devices. However, 54 percent of all respondents reported not being able to work at home at the same technological level as at the office, and nearly 70 percent of those reported having to deal with one or more technical issues. The most common issue reported was unstable access to necessary work systems, which included slow and shared Internet bandwidth at home, slow VPN connections to office networks, and problems connecting to virtual desktops from home computers.
When asked about their experiences with newly widespread collaboration tools, 74% said that Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and similar solutions were very effective as substitutes for in-person meetings. They also reported shorter, more tightly focused meetings, as well as other benefits; one respondent who reported feeling intimidated by in-person meetings said they found it “easier to contribute when everyone’s reduced to a box on my screen.”
Other respondents, however, pointed to perceived negatives from their video-meeting experience such as:
“Difficulty sustaining attention during long virtual meetings”
“Video conferencing drains my energy much more than meetings did”
These discrepancies highlight the importance of learning directly from your own employees about their technological experiences at home. The effectiveness of new solutions like videoconferencing is likely to vary not only by individual employee, but by teams and even entire offices, districts or regions.
The 54 percent who reported reduced productivity also listed a number of non-technical issues that impeded them — on average, 2.1 non-technical issues for each respondent. The most common issues were distractions at home (such as additional caregiving responsibilities and dealing with other family members also working from home) and feeling disconnected from team members. The next most common issues were collaboration challenges and feeling overworked.
As one respondent said, “[It’s] mostly because just living life (e.g., acquiring toilet paper) takes more time and energy than usual – but the pace of the work hasn’t subsided to account for that.”
Would They Do It Again?
Respondents reported a wide variety of advantages to working from home, many of which centered around time – more time with family and pets and to spend on personal pursuits including sleep; less time spent commuting to the office (as much as four hours saved a day), traveling for work or getting ready for work.
They reported an improved quality of life that included experiencing less stress and illness, cooking more and eating healthier foods, taking work breaks outdoors, getting more exercise, etc.
As one respondent said, “I must be a stress eater at the office, because I’ve lost 15 pounds since being home!”
They appreciated saving money by burning less gasoline, not paying for parking, and eating at home more often. They also expressed relief from office irritations and distractions such as loud or annoying coworkers, in-person interruptions, “groupthink” and office politics in general.
Considering the variety of clear benefits they listed, it’s no surprise that 64 percent expressed a desire to work from home three or more days a week.
One final point: Considering the jokes that have made their way into public consciousness since the onset of shelter-in-place, would it surprise you to learn that some of the most colorful comments in the freeform list of benefits feature the concept of pants or a private bathroom?
While 52 percent of our respondents were individual contributors, the other 48 percent were middle or senior managers. We asked the managers specifically about their efforts to make remote working work for their employees and the challenges they’ve faced. Read those results – and the full results of the survey – here.