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Knowledge workers prefer remote work by large margin

How employees feel about returning to the workplace

May 20, 2020

Home Blog Knowledge workers prefer remote work by large margin
return to workplace

11% of the respondents to LAC Group’s pandemic workplace survey prefer working onsite. Compare that to the 29%—some working from home (WFH) for the first time—who stated a preference for remote work.

Conducted in the midst of “The Great COVID-19 Remote Work Experiment” in which many employees became subjects, the survey was completed by 607 knowledge workers across the US and Canada.

The picture that was painted is clear: Working from home is here to stay, at least in some capacity to be determined ultimately by employers themselves. And if the tech giants like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon are factors, WFH will be accepted and encouraged. All of these companies have announced that employees may continue working remotely through the summer, and in the case of Google, through the end of 2020. Twitter notified its employees that they may become permanent remote workers.

Big work changes in little time

Our pandemic work survey started by asking for employment status at the start of the year compared to the survey date in April:

work comparison january to april 2020

Regarding the majority that still had the same job under new circumstances, of course the main change was the sudden shift to remote work. Other circumstances were reductions in hours or pay cuts. As for those who were furloughed or told their layoff would be temporary, less than a third kept their medical insurance, 38% reported they would keep their role/seniority, and 39% were given a return-to-work date, albeit a tentative and likely moving target.

Return to the workplace? Not so fast…

Another sentiment we wanted to gauge was their willingness to return to their normal workplace. That willingness is less than enthusiastic, crossing many shades of gray. 6% are simply uncertain or don’t know how they feel about it. 34% are willing, but not yet, and our guess is that the time will be right when testing is more widespread, the curve is drastically flattened, and ideally, a vaccine is available.

how willing employees are to work back onsite

20% are willing to work onsite again, but only if certain conditions are met. In order of priority, those conditions are stringent cleaning and disinfecting, adequate space between workstations, and commuting options other than public transportation. The remainder are the people we mentioned already who are firmly in the remote work camp (29%) or firmly in the onsite work camp (11%), no fence-sitting.

How to know if you are a knowledge worker

This experiment showed that if you can do all or most of your work from any place with an internet-connected computer, you have an advantage during a crisis like this pandemic. However, even many knowledge workers must be in a specific location. For example, surgeons need to be in the operating room. Most librarians need to be in the library.

As for our survey, 13% indicated that they must be in a specific workplace to do their work while 84% can do some or all of their work remotely. The remainder didn’t know or it was not applicable to their current situation.

job done remotely

They told us how they really feel

Our biggest surprise was the number of people who took the time and effort to respond to an optional, open-ended question. The question was an invitation for them to share their experiences and insights, and about 200 people took us up on that offer.

Comments were related to the following topics and concerns:

  • Job security
  • Physical health and safety
  • Mental health and emotional stress
  • Employer’s handling of the crisis
  • Work processes and technology
  • Working from home versus working onsite

We share a representative sampling of those comments, as many people expressed similar feelings and opinions, some good and some bad, as it seems that a crisis will always bring out the best and the worst in human nature. In a nutshell:

  • Job security is low.
  • Physical health and safety are a worry.
  • Mental health and emotional stress are up and down.
  • Employer’s handling of the crisis ranged from strong to horrible.
  • Work processes and technology matter, especially for working from home effectively.
  • Working from home is preferred overall to working onsite.

The perks of working from home are flexibility, saving time and money on getting ready and commuting, and fewer distractions. The perks of working onsite are greater collaboration and the camaraderie and friendship of co-workers, which matters a lot. It wasn’t cited specifically, but we imagine that access to better equipment and tools are also an onsite work advantage. Some people did mention poor or no internet access at home and working on cranky, insufficient computers.

Advice for employers

Based on survey findings, we feel confident giving any organization the following advice to maximize worker productivity and satisfaction and create a post-pandemic work environment for future sustainability and success:

  • Ongoing WFH options for some or all employees, if even for a limited number of days per week.
  • Physical separation in the workplace, like workstation buffer zones, limits to meetings and other gatherings, and metering the flow of people in and out of a facility.
  • Personal protection safeguards like face masks, disinfecting surfaces, temperature checks, and stricter guidelines against people coming to work with possible symptoms.
  • Special considerations for some workers, like those reliant on public transportation (20% of respondents who are willing to return to the office are concerned about taking public transportation to get there) and workers with children.

People like the flexibility they gain from working at home, as long as they can strike a healthy work-life balance. Yet it’s apparent that socializing and collaboration with colleagues is something workers have missed. Therefore, the ideal solution may be the obvious one of some work from home / work onsite flexibility.

Thank you to all our respondents for sharing their experiences and opinions on this topic. The pandemic did provide the rare opportunity for workers and employers alike to take a closer look at how they function and get work done.

If you’re interested in viewing the entire survey results, download the full report here.

pandemic workplace survey cta

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