Do you miss the days of seeing a row of heads lowered to computer screens, watching employees chat about weekend plans at the watercooler, and knowing exactly when someone is taking a coffee break? Well, you might, but your employees don’t.
As we’ve jumped from only about 7% of U.S. workers having the option to work from home to now around 60% currently doing so, productivity and satisfaction levels are high, as in over 75% positive high. But employees are feeling pressured to work longer hours and are concerned about being forced to return to the office full time.
Remote collaboration is happening in ways you might not be aware of, such as regular text messaging. And your employees need you to lean into a new way of working and reduce the value you place on the more traditional ways of working in order to continue building on the success remote work is seeing.
This report will provide insight on how individual contributors maintain productivity and the challenges they experience when working remotely. With this information, small-business leaders such as yourself can better understand how to support a newly remote workforce culture so the “death of the office” will be a fond farewell.
We surveyed* individual contributors (non-managers) in small businesses who are now working remotely due to COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements. Those who were remote workers prior to the pandemic were excluded from the survey.
*The survey methodology can be found at the end of the piece.
What needs to change: Workplace culture needs to evolve toward trust and empowerment.
44% of small and midsize business leaders want to let their teams work remotely "some of the time" and reduced productivity is the top concern (39%).
82% of remote workers feel pressure to put in more hours.
38% feel pressure to answer emails on weekends and 37% to take calls after hours.
Why the change is needed: Employees are ready for permanent remote work.
1 out of 2 employees want to be given the choice to permanently stay remote.
59% report performing as well, if not better, when working remote.
Satisfaction levels in aspects such as productivity and work/life balance average over 75% positively.
Proceed with caution: A hybrid system of remote and in-office might not work.
Only 24% of employees report being the most productive in an office.
Only 1% of employees want a hot-desking system.
How to evolve: Help your remote employees meet their new challenges.
51% of employees use mobile messaging to collaborate for work at least once a day.
Document sharing tools are as preferred as online meeting software for productivity.
67% of employees are occasionally or regularly using personal devices (mainly phones and computers) for work purposes and half of them are stressed by it.
Forty-four percent of small and midsize business leaders** want to let their teams work remotely “some of the time,” but report that reduced productivity is the number one concern (39%) of having a remote workforce. (**Survey methodology can be found at the end of this report.)
However, the data just isn’t there to support this impression of reduced productivity while working from home and this myth is causing employee burnout. The myth is so powerful, employees pressure themselves to work longer hours even if they’re not feeling direct or indirect pressure from their managers to do so.
When you, as a leader, believe that work-from-home productivity is suffering, the result is employees feeling pressured to work longer hours and work on the weekends. So you get an increase in quantity of work, not quality. With 90% of employees feeling satisfied with the quality of their work, the pressure to work more hours isn’t going to move the needle the four or five percent you may think it will—instead you’ll end up with burned-out employees whose productivity is now actually suffering.
As an employer, you need to embrace the remote work culture and help employees through the challenges they're experiencing now, instead of ignoring them and thinking we’re all going back to the office soon.
Throughout this report, we’ll share the data, insights, and recommendations as to why and how to best do this.
One out of two employees would like the choice to work from home full time. Satisfaction levels for multiple aspects of work while working from home are high. Thirty-nine percent report they perform better remotely.
So why are employers so reluctant to trust the data?
Quality of work, work/life balance, and productivity levels are all very high. A majority of employees are even satisfied with their team’s productivity—not only do they feel their work isn’t suffering but they also feel it’s not impacting their peers’ work either.
Of course, working remotely isn’t the preferred environment for everyone. But we found that only 24% of employees report performing better in the office and only 5% say they never want to work remotely in the future.
To best support your employees who prefer to be in the office, ask about their challenges and work together to come up with a solution.
For all employees, evaluate the software tools you provide your team and see if changes need to be made to meet their actual methods of working remotely. (We'll offer specific suggestions for this later in the report.)
Consider moving to a smaller office space so some employees can be in office, but you’re not paying for real estate for the majority who will remain remote.
Consider a “leave the house, not the neighborhood” option of supporting employees to use local, coworking workspaces, such as WeWork.
Some companies are announcing plans to close headquarters and large offices, REI being the latest. REI closed its headquarters earlier this year and allowed employees to work from home and it is now leaning “into remote working as an engrained, supported, and normalized model.”
But some companies are trying to mix together a solution that allows managers to still keep an in-person eye on employees while loosening the leash a little bit.
It often is a hot-desking system—hot-desking is a shared-space optimization technique, likely named after a rather unpleasant naval practice—and in this time of a viral pandemic, it’s even more unpleasant. (“Hot” refers to the body heat from the previous occupant of the bunk/desk, in case you weren’t cringing yet.)
Only 1% of employees like hot-desking. Probably the same number of crew members who like it, too.
Consider if the other options from the above graph are viable, such as scheduling alternating days for people to be in the office or spacing out all desks to ensure social distancing.
Convert office space to offer collaboration hubs with mobile seating, whiteboards, and privacy from other meetings going on. This would allow employees to perform focus work at home, but give teams the option to schedule brainstorming sessions or launch parties together in the office.
If you must switch to a hot-desking system, prioritize how to ensure cleanliness for all shared areas and devices. Even when we have a COVID-19 vaccine, germs and viruses will continue to be a major risk in shared workspaces.
How to evolve: Help your remote employees meet their new challenges
Are you supporting your remote employees in the ways they actually need? It’s likely there are aspects you may be unaware of where a little support or adjustment could boost productivity and happiness on your teams.
Let’s take a look at the collaboration behaviors and tools your employees are using to get work done, the technical challenges they’re facing, and, as in the previous sections, we’ll share our recommendation for how you can help.
The myth that great ideas come from teams chatting it up around the office water cooler is not what true collaboration looks like. In fact, the idea of this type of gathering is almost scary in a COVID-19 world, and we’ll see a heightened awareness and concern around germs and viruses even long after a vaccine is found.
But employees are adapting and the work is getting done. Let’s look into these new behaviors and how collaboration is happening.
You know that your employees use document programs to create presentations, spreadsheets, and reports. But it might surprise you to find that 85% of employees use these tools for collaboration on a regular basis. Leaving comments, tagging someone for their approval, assigning action items, and sharing recognition for good work are happening in documents. This approach to collaboration is not only effective and preferred, it’s also completely independent of where your team is located—no co-location needed.
The next surprise is the reliance on text messaging across teams. And don’t think it’s just the younger generations. Nearly 40% of employees 56 years of age or older use mobile messaging at least once a day for work. And just like document sharing, texting happens regardless of location. (You know you’ve texted someone in the same building before. I know you have.)
A major benefit of this shift toward collaborating remotely is the reduction in disruption and noise pollution experienced that you see in the office when one employee is in focus mode while others are in collaboration mode.
Encourage asynchronous communication. The collaboration happening in document tools doesn’t need to occur in real-time, so let employees know they can establish response time expectations within their teams based on the type of tools used.
Consider providing a device stipend. Remember how employees are texting as a form of collaboration? The use of personal devices for work makes it into the top three ongoing challenges for employees (32%), so don’t take this stressor lightly. Just as you might offer a parking stipend for the office, your employees now would greatly appreciate some form of financial support for devices and/or usage plans.
Implement a policy for personal device use. If your employees are using personal devices for work purposes, read our article about how to create a “bring your own device” policy.
Now that we’ve seen how collaboration has evolved in a remote workforce, let’s take a look at the tools used most while working from home.
Good ol’ email is still the most often used form of collaboration for teams, with 52% using it throughout the work day. But there were some surprises in the answers about other types of tools used by employees when working from home to maintain productivity and team collaboration.
Here’s a breakdown of the most-used software tools for employee productivity.
Online meeting software use has exploded since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (in case you’ve somehow missed this), but to see it lose the top spot to document sharing tools by even just 1% is still a surprise. Collaboration tools have also been discussed almost endlessly, but another surprise is seeing to-do list software make the top three productivity tools list for 16% of respondents.
Now is the time to review your team’s document sharing and to-do list offerings to ensure they have what they need.
Provide the right document software features. The popularity of these tools amongst employees might be surprising to some employers. Now that you see the numbers, this is a good time to check with your teams to ensure they have the document management tools they need.
Evaluate the online meeting tool you provide. It’s possible your employees may not be using the one you offer and are using a personal account because it has features they prefer. Ask your team what they like using and be open to making a switch in order to get them what they need (and to help them stop using personal accounts for work purposes).
Let’s take a look at the new challenges workers are facing now that they’re out of the office. Knowing the extent of these issues can provide insight on how you can help support your workforce.
It’s no surprise that internet speed and connectivity top the charts for challenges experienced when working from home. Internet speeds can be a headache in the office, too, let’s not forget. But there are ways to help other than laying Google Fiber cables to each employee’s home.
One easy way is to let your employees turn off the camera during online meetings. Not only does this help fend off Zoom fatigue, it’ll help to preserve bandwidth and reduce connectivity issues. Check out this article for more tips on how to improve your internet speed.
Note that only 3% of respondents report experiencing no technical challenges. So you should be reaching out to your employees to see where you can offer support.
Consider offering a communication tool stipend. While you may not be able to justify the cost of providing phones to all your employees, consider the possibility of a monthly stipend for their phone/internet bill. This could offset the cost of employees upgrading their internet connection speeds.
Negotiate a business discount with a provider that your employees can sign up for and receive a monthly discount. This is another way to support employees upgrading their service.
Employees want to stay remote because they actually like most aspects of it, but as an employer, you need to change your perspective and embrace this new way of working. The main challenges employees face come from the fact they feel a need to compensate for working remotely (e.g., putting more hours, answering emails on their free time) and that pressure is coming from you. So stop it.
Other than checking in with your team to see how they’re feeling about their workload, be cognizant that your behavior sets the standard for how your team behaves. So be thoughtful of this before you hit “send” on emails at 10 p.m. Instead, schedule for it to be sent on Monday morning. This allows you to get the message out, make sure it’s at the top of the inbox, and lets your team truly unplug from work on the weekends.
If you’re looking for software to support your employees as they work from home, here are a couple starting points for each of the tools mentioned above as preferred by employees.
Document sharing software: user reviews
To-do list software: user reviews
For each software type, you can search by specific features you need, the pricing model you’re looking for, and more by using the left menu bar.
*This survey was conducted in July 2020 among 384 individual contributors in small U.S. businesses (2 - 500 employees) who are now working at least part-time because of the pandemic.
**This survey was conducted in June 2020 among respondents who reported leadership roles at U.S. businesses with 2 - 500 employees.