Survey Results: How Has COVID-19 Changed Office Working Habits?

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The Big COVID-19 Office Working Habits Survey; the results!

Changing attitudes and experiences in the post-COVID workspace.

We undertook a large survey of UK office workers to better understand people’s experiences of working from home, and how it has changed their attitude to offices and shared workspaces.

Specifically, we looked at whether the Coronavirus pandemic is creating a cultural shift towards remote working, and how office workers themselves feel about these changes, including:  

  • What support employers are giving staff working at home
  • How people’s home office set-ups compare with their main (employer) office
  • Which working patterns employees would ideally choose
  • The safety measures needed to make people feel comfortable returning to work
  • How people expect to split their time between the home and office in the future
  • Differences between demographics
  • And, in this post we’re going to share what we discovered.

Highlights and key statistics

  1. 42.8% of office workers do not have a dedicated workspace at home
  2. 63% of people with school-age children have no dedicated home workspace
  3. 60% of home workers only have one PC screen
  4. 69% of home workers do not use an ergonomic office chair
  5. 34% feel isolated working from home
  6. 28.3% of people report being less productive working from home
  7. 53% of employees report working longer hours at home, than in the office
  8. 66% of employers have not financially contributed to employees’ home offices
  9. The number of office workers expecting to work over 3 days a week in the office has dropped from 78% to 46%  
  10. Only 10.3% of people would choose to go back to full-time office work
  11. 47.5% of people would choose to work in the office at least 2 days per week
  12. The top reasons for using offices in the future will be for collaboration and social purposes, with only 30.4% citing ‘Everyday Work’ as a reason to visit the office
  13. Seniority plays a small role in feelings of isolation, with junior staff suffering disproportionately  

How do home office set-ups compare with the main office?

We wanted to find out how people’s home workstations compare with their office setups. Specifically, we were interested in the quality of their home work stations and access to professional equipment.  

Chart comparing home office experience with main office

Key Findings:

  • Over 2/5ths (42.8%) do not have a dedicated workspace at home. This is more than double the amount who do not have a dedicated space in the main office (20%).
  • The age group most likely to have their own workspace at home is age 50+ (61.5%) with 30-39 year olds being the least likely (54.3%).
  • 60% of people working from home only use one screen, compared with 43% of people working from the office.
  • The number of people using sit-stand desks is still low (despite their health benefits), especially at home (16%) compared with at the office (26%).
  • Nearly 1/3rd (31%) of people have an ergonomic chair at home compared with 2/3rds (66%) at the office.
  • People with school age children are less likely to have a dedicated workspace at home (37% compared with an average of 57%).

Conclusion:

Generally speaking, we found that employees do not have access to good equipment at home. Many describe their home set-up as lacking the basics for good, productive working.

Home office set-ups need to be improved, as clearly there are too many people working in environments that have not been designed for office purposes.

A lack of proper seating and desk space is a cause for concern, as we know that this reduces productivity and can store up long-term health problems for the future.

How does the experience of working from home (WFH) compare with the main office?

We asked our respondents to tell us how they feel about WFH and the effect it has on both them personally, and their ability to work productively.  

Key Findings

  • The majority of people have fewer interruptions working from home (58%). However, just over 1/5th (22.8%) say they are interrupted more often
  • Nearly 1/3rd (32%) of people think they are equally productive working from the home or the office, with almost half (49%) saying they are more productive. The remaining 19% are less productive
  • Over half (55.9%) agree or strongly agreed that they feel supported by their manager
  • Technology doesn’t generally seem to be a big issue, with most people (85.2%) at least moderately agreeing (3-5) they have the technology they need at home
  • Around 1/3rd (33.7%) agree that they feel isolated WFH
  • Over half of people (52.6%) work longer hours at home

Conclusion

Overall, many people seem to find WFH to be more productive in-spite of any limitations caused by lack of space and equipment. However, isolation issues could be a cause of concern.

Whilst WFH is good for getting work done uninterrupted, there is a clear risk that people can feel lonely and unsupported if they WFH exclusively.

There is also a tendency to work longer hours at home, which can cause a blurring of the lines between work and home life.

Employers need to be mindful of mental health and issues caused by these issues and take appropriate steps to support their staff.

How much are employers financially contributing to their employees home office set-ups?

In this section we asked our respondents to tell us about how much support employers were giving them financially towards the cost of a home office set-up.  

Key Findings

  • So far 2/3rds (66%) of employers have not contributed financially to the cost of the home office
  • Just over a quarter (28%) of employers have either already contributed or said they are going to do so

Conclusion

In one of the more surprising findings, we discovered that very few employers are providing financial support for their employees’ transition to WFH.

If employers expect their staff to work remotely in the future, they need to consider investing in suitable home office equipment and conduct virtual ergonomics assessments.

Although some employers might be tempted to avoid the additional expense of equipping home office workers, the reduction in productivity and potential increase in chronic health conditions such as back pain, makes this a risky strategy.

When do employees expect to return to the main office?

Here we asked people to tell us when they expect to return to the office full-time. We wanted to understand if there is a general plan to get back to work as normal, and if this has been communicated effectively by employers.   

Chart showing when people expect to return to the office

Key Findings

  • Over a quarter (27.6%) of people still don’t know when they will be returning to the office
  • Just over a quarter (25.6%) expect to return from January 2021
  • Over 1/5th of employees (22.4%) have already returned to the office
  • A small percentage (7.4%) will not be returning at all

Conclusion

The pandemic is making it difficult for businesses to plan ahead, with many respondents unsure or unable to specify exactly when their company expects a return to the office.

Most people have still not returned to the office, but January 2021 is looking like a big month for returning to work. In many cases however there is still a lot of uncertainty out there.

What safety measures need to be in place for employees to feel comfortable returning to the office?

We also wanted to find out how employees feel about the prospect of returning to the office in the wake of a pandemic. We asked them to tell us how confident they are and what safety precautions they would like to see when returning to work.

Conclusion

Employees report feeling strong anxiety about returning to work post-COVID, with a significant percentage (15%) worried about ever returning to the office at all.

It’s clear that ‘employee anxiety’ will be a significant barrier to returning to the office as normal.

Employers will need to ensure that there are plenty of well thought out safety measures in place to ensure a positive employee experience on return to work. This will be essential to building and maintaining trust.

How do current working patterns compare with expected future working patterns?

With over half of respondents still working from home full-time, we wanted to find out what their future expectations of returning to the office look like.

Key Findings

  • Over half of workers are still working from home full-time (54%)
  • Over 1/5th of workers are still unsure of how their working patterns will be in the future (22%)
  • In the future, only just over 1/5th of workers currently expect to be in the office 4-5 days a week (22%)
  • Prior to COVID, over three quarters of workers (78%) either worked in the office most or all of the time (3+days)

Conclusion

The normalisation of WFH is now well-established. Post COVID, there will be a continuous trend towards more people working remotely, with the majority of office employees spending at least some of the week away from the office.

This is probably going to change how we work forever.

How do employees ideal working patterns compare with the way their employers expect them to work?

Here we tried to find out how much of a difference exists between employer expectations and their teams. When it comes to future WFH/Office working patterns, what would employees choose? 

Employee versus employer ideal working patterns

Key Findings

  • Only one in ten people (10.3%) would choose to work in the office 4-5 days a week, although more than 1/5 (22.7%) will be expected to
  • Almost half (47.9%) of people would choose to either WFH full-time or go in the office less than once a week
  • A similar number (47.5%) would like to be in the office at least 2 days a week
  • Just over 1/5th of people (21.5%) would like to WFH full time although only 12.1% expect to do so
  • Prior to COVID, nearly eight out of ten people (78.7%) went into the office at least 3 days a week
  • Post COVID the expectations for working in the office are much lower (46.3% currently expect to work in the office 2+ days)

Conclusion

There is a clear disconnect between what employers expect and how employees want to work in the future.

The majority of people want a balance between WFH and the office. Future employers may well begin to recognise that this is a significant incentive to securing the best talent and begin offering WFH packages to secure them.

These changes, brought about by COVID, will continue to be debated long after the pandemic has passed.

Why will people use the office in future?

We wanted to understand how people view the office from a practical perspective and what benefits it can bring to future working practices. Chiefly, what are the unique selling points of a shared collaborative workspace?

*Respondents were only given the option to select their top 3 reasons.

Key Findings

  • The top three reasons* for people using the office in the future are all social reasons
  • Almost a quarter (24.4%) of employees cited better equipment as a reason for going in, which correlates with the earlier findings that people’s home set-ups are not as good as the office
  • Only 10.8% chose space as one of their top three reasons, suggesting that the majority of people don’t see lack of space at home as a primary issue. There is a similar finding with technology (11.4%)
  • A fairly significant number chose quiet time/focus amongst their top 3 reasons for going to the office (16.5%)

Conclusion

It’s clear that most of us would rather use the office for team bonding and planning/collaboration style projects, with more time WFH to then deliver the follow up work.

Humans are social creatures and offices should facilitate social interaction, but it’s also important to include quieter areas where people can focus and work independently.

All of this could have big implications for future office design, where more space is given to collaborative spaces and less to traditional workstation structures.

Demographics

We collected key demographics data from our respondents to see what the differences were between company size, seniority, and age.

Key Observations:

  • There is a low correlation between age group and whether they have their own workspace. The over 50’s are more likely to have a dedicated workspace than any other age group
  • As you might expect, there is a tendency for middle and senior management to work longer hours than more junior staff
  • There is a minimal correlation between age group and level of isolation However, there is a small correlation between feeling less isolated the more senior the role
  • There is minimal correlation between the size of the organisation and willingness to invest in home office equipment

Conclusion

Lack of investment in home office equipment is an issue for companies of all sizes. Employers need to find ways to ensure their staff don’t feel isolated, especially more junior staff.

Commuting to the office

We wanted to find out if there was any correlation between people’s commute time and their attitudes to WFH.

pie charts - commuting and transport

Conclusion

The desire to split working time between the home and the office remains strong, regardless of commuting time or mode of transport used.

Final thoughts and conclusions

There is a degree of uncertainty about when employees expect to return to the workplace. However, in the UK it looks like, for the majority of people, this will be some time in the New Year (2021).

The interesting questions raised here are around how employers manage this return to work, now that the Pandoras Box of WFH has been opened.

For employers it must be a concern that, in spite of around 30% of people feeling less productive and more isolated, a significant proportion would still like to carry on WFH full-time. There are clearly a cohort who would accept being less productive and more isolated in return for the comfort of WFH, throwing up some interesting team management and HR challenges.

However, most people prefer to work from home some of the time as they feel that they are more productive. In general, they want a balance and see the office as being especially valuable for face-to-face communications such as meetings and collaboration with colleagues.

Equipment and home-working spaces are a big issue. Too many people report working at the wrong type of desk, whilst sitting in the wrong type of chair and without dedicated workspaces. This may be acceptable during an international crisis but in the long-term, employers will have to address this.

The WFH trend has caused a huge increase in back problems. These dramatically reduce productivity and increase absenteeism.

There is still uncertainty about exactly how people will spend time between the office and remote working in the future. However, it is likely that people will spend more time working remotely than they did pre-COVID – and employers will need to make provisions for this.

The majority of people will only feel comfortable going into the workplace if safety measures are put into place, including socially distanced workspaces.

The feeling of isolation and working longer hours (therefore risking burning out) are two potential risks of working from home.

Employers need to ensure processes are in place to minimise these risks.

With people working increased hours from home, ergonomics has never been more important.

There is currently no legislation to govern home office set-up, assessment, or equipment. Employers should consider conducting virtual ergonomic assessments to identify and address risks if they want to maintain a healthy, productive workforce.

Now we’d like to hear from you…

What’s your #1 takeaway from this industry study? Or maybe you have a question about something that you read?

Either way, we’d like to hear what you have to say. So go ahead and contact us here.

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