The 2020 Working from Home survey - the changing habits and wants of the workforce

June 02, 2020

Paris Stevens

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“74% of UK employees want to keep working from home after the lockdown is over” but demand “more social contact with workmates”

In the global turmoil of recent months, working from home has changed from an option to an obligation. Some companies have had remote infrastructure in place for years, while others have never sent so much as a laptop out of the office before –  and whatever the circumstances, everyone has had to adapt to a new way of working where discomfort, distraction and demotivation can all present a risk to productivity.

At Wildgoose we wanted to find out how home working has impacted not just businesses but individuals. We asked employees from 133 companies how their working life differs from what they knew in the office, in order to find out:

  • Whether they feel happy and supported in their work
  • How sustainable home working is, and what companies need to do in order to improve it
  • Whether home working has increased the sense of isolation among workforces
  • Whether ‘microbreaks’ need to be better encouraged in order to protect mental health
  • Whether the adjustment has been successful enough that people want to continue working remotely after the coronavirus lockdown has ended

Our findings showed that most people favour working from home, but employers have a long way to go in ensuring employee wellbeing, protecting company ethos and creating a workspace of the same standard seen in offices. Read on to dig into the details...


Do employees want to continue working from home post-lockdown? 

We’ve delved into virtually every aspect of home working, but the fundamental question is whether employees enjoy it. It’s one thing to work from home occasionally – when family life gets in the way, or when you want a respite from the rhythm of office life – but it’s quite another to do it every day with no other option.

Whether our findings are a surprise probably depends on your personal experiences of home working over the last few months, but our survey indicates that UK employees are overwhelmingly in favour of staying at home after the lockdown has ended. 

With 74% in favour of home working in the long term, it’s clear that there are numerous benefits – from saving on commuting costs to spending more time with family. Interestingly, additional data from our survey shows differences in opinion, depending on size of employer and people per household...

With 90% of employees in companies of 1-9 people, and 69% of employees in companies of 1000+, favouring home working in future, it seems that the smaller the company, the more enjoyable the home working experience (the exception to this rule is the self-employed).

There could be many reasons for this, but it may be that SMEs with few employees are able to devote greater budget and resources to remote working, and many had already done so before the lockdown.

With a difference of 27% between households of 2 and 6 people, the more crowded the home, the sooner the employee wants to get back to the office. Whether it’s rowdy flatmates or hyperactive children, it seems the scope for distraction is much greater in busier homes – not to mention the fact that quiet corners suited to working are more likely to be at a premium!


How will companies benefit from instating a WFH policy?

Working from home isn’t merely a survival tactic that will help see your business through the coronavirus lockdown. For years, it’s proved to be a mutually beneficial system for employers and employees alike. Whether you’re considering one flexible day per week or a full switch to remote working, here’s why it can help future proof a company:

  • Reduced costs and overheads
  • More space in the office
  • More flexibility for employees without a commute, which can help instil satisfaction and loyalty
  • A widened pool of potential recruitments

How working from home can be improved: ‘more social contact with workmates’ and other findings

While most employees are happy to continue working from home, it’s clear that systems are still experiencing teething problems, and there’s much more employers can do to improve home working setups and maintain staff morale remotely. From interaction with colleagues to better chairs, we asked what employees felt were the main areas for improvement.

By some distance the biggest issue for employees working from home is lack of contact with workmates – 56% miss social contact with their colleagues, while close behind this, 52% miss spending time with them face to face. 

Quick chats at the coffee machine or water cooler are an essential aspect of office life that help employees to remain positive and motivated throughout the day. Employers need to prioritise replicating these informal interactions by promoting regular gatherings via video conference, and ensuring these are not just about work. 

Remote team building can mean a quiz, a challenge or even just a Friday drink at the ‘pub’ - what’s important is that it allows for the same kind of natural social interactions that would normally happen in the office, and which create long-term friendships.

In addition, the data shows that:

  • 47% of employees feel their mental health is being impacted by working in isolation. This problem can be tackled with regular, direct check-ins from management and encouragement to take mental health ‘microbreaks’.
  • 45% feel less productive due to an uncomfortable home working setup. Working from home doesn’t mean hunching over a laptop on the sofa; companies need to invest in equipment like screens, supportive office chairs and proper desks.
  • 36% find themselves working longer hours. Without the structure of an office day, it can be difficult to encourage employees to take regular breaks and strike the right work-life balance. Employers need to communicate the importance of this and foster a culture in which overworking is not encouraged.
  • 28% would like more contact with their manager and team. Remote working shouldn’t mean that teams are left feeling adrift. With distance separating colleagues, extra effort has to be made to keep communication regular and two-way.
  • However, 26% would like less contact and feel they are being checked in on too much. If managers don’t trust teams to work hard, this reflects deeper problems. Good management means allowing people to take control of their own work, and it’s crucial to strike the right balance between supportive and overbearing. 

Improvements to working from home: what does the size of the company matter?

Depending on the number of employees in a company, there are some vast differences in the results below between the importance placed on certain issues where working from home – for example, almost the same number of people in companies of all sizes feel that they are being monitored too closely by managers.

SMEs

More people in SMEs than in larger companies (60%) feel that lack of direct contact with workmates is having a direct impact on them during home working. This may be because the sense of camaraderie is greater in smaller companies, and their offices can often have a less formal atmosphere. In addition, SMEs see the lowest percentage of people (47%) wanting more social contact with colleagues, suggesting that more people in SMEs are making an effort to stay in touch informally.

Medium & Large Businesses

In medium and large businesses, the greatest number of respondents (68%) said that they would like more social contact with workmates, and 39% said they would like more direct contact with their managers, more than in SMEs or larger companies. This suggests that overall, the biggest communication problems (both work-related and non-work-related) in lockdown are being experienced by businesses with between 100 and 999 employees. 

Large Companies

In large companies, employees are experiencing the greatest dissatisfaction (56%) with their home working setup. As mentioned above, this illustrates a lack of allocated resources in the largest companies for employees to be adequately equipped and comfortable at home. In addition, the lowest percentage (16%) felt that they did not have enough contact with managers.

The common theme across all three categories of company is lack of interaction with colleagues, in response to both questions (about social contact and face-to-face contact). These remain the biggest issues for all home working employees by some distance, indicating the importance of using innovative remote team building methods to maintain company culture.


Is lockdown affecting our ability to have microbreaks? 

Whether it’s a jog up the nearest flight of stairs, a walk around the block for fresh air or a visit to the kitchen for a cup of tea, microbreaks are a crucial part of office life – helping you focus your mind, feel physically energized and stay productive throughout the day. 

The benefits of taking regular microbreaks (of around 1 to 5 minutes in length) include:

  • Improving concentration
  • Reducing workplace stress and boosting mental health
  • Avoiding common desk injuries like RSI
  • Encouraging movement with stretches and short walks
  • Increasing liquid intake with regular tea, coffee or water
  • Interacting informally with other employees

Social contact with colleagues (a key element missing from home working, as described above) is often a motivating factor in taking microbreaks. This means that, despite home working seeming conducive to more breaks and greater relaxation – with easy access to a kettle, a sofa and often a garden – employees are in fact taking fewer breaks at home than in the office.

After non-work related conversations with colleagues (61%), making a hot drink or a refreshment (51%) is the main thing employees have done less of while away from the office – which perhaps goes against the perception that as a nation we can’t stop snacking when we’re working from home. 

However, every key aspect of an effective microbreak – exercise or stretching (50%), getting up every hour (47%) and browsing or using social media (40%) is being done significantly less - and even people who are keeping up these habits (26%) are doing them less frequently.

What can companies do to encourage microbreaks when working from home?

In order to make sure that employees are taking a healthy amount of microbreaks, companies could:

  • Offer information on easy exercises and stretches that people can perform at or around their desks
  • Encourage remote social events during lunch hours in order to ensure people don’t eat at their desks
  • Promote team building exercises that require people to leave their desks, for example taking a creative photo outside
  • Make sure people aren’t rewarded for working relentlessly throughout the day
  • Ensure people are aware of the health implications of excessive screen time

How companies can use technology to increase social interaction

The problems outlined above range from practical issues that can be fixed with the right equipment to deep-rooted flaws in company cultures, but the figures show that interaction with colleagues is consistently the key to a happy and healthy remote workforce. Understanding how technology can help is the first step towards better remote working. 

In these times, team building is more important than it’s ever been. At Wildgoose we’ve developed a set of four new remote team building products which help keep employees connected: 

It’s not just about events though – effective team building starts on day one, and remote working is no exception. Companies should establish a digital induction process for welcoming new staff, because communicating company values and conveying the ethics of the wider team is more challenging than ever in a remote environment.


Remote working is here to stay. Adapting should be the priority

It’s clear from our survey’s findings that home working is what workforces want – and once the key areas for improvement are addressed there’s no reason why it shouldn’t become the new normal. 

The pitfalls may currently be many but the benefits of remote working are numerous. In order to retain a happy workforce and maintain the company ethos with new recruits, employers should be preparing for long-term working as a top priority, and looking at it far beyond the current coronavirus crisis.

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