Global study reveals remote working highs and lows

As companies prepare for a proportion of the workforce to return to the office, a study conducted by global recruiter Robert Walters presents the varied experiences of 5,000 professionals from 2,000 global firms during lockdown.

First and foremost, it was a smooth relocation for almost everyone, according to the study. Companies all over the world acted fast to initiate remote working programmes, with a seamless transition reported by most. A global average of 47% of firms moved employees to a remote work environment within two days; 61% took more than a week.

Proportion of companies that were able to transition to remote working in less than seven days:

Canada 85%
Switzerland 82%
Ireland 82%
US 76%
UK 70%

The UK that was reported as having experienced the most drastic change in this regard, with just 11% declaring preparedness pre-lockdown, rising to 70% in less than a week; half of these achieved that transition in less than 48 hours.

Key sticking points

Tech has been a key sticking point. Getting the required IT hardware in place was a problem for 59%, IT infrastructure and security for 28%, and technology software such as Zoom for 15%. As a result, over half of staff (52%) expect their employers to invest in technology that enhances working from home post-COVID-19.

A third of companies believe that a manager’s ability to oversee virtual teams and autonomous work has been the biggest challenge to remote working. To counter this 30% increased the number of staff catch-ups, with 20% holding calls sometimes multiple times a day, and 37% at least once a day... leading to 30% of employees reporting a negative impact on productivity.

Professionals in the UK swapped email (38%) for instant messenger (73%), video chats (64%) and telephone calls (59%), and formalities have been brushed aside. Globally, video calls (70%) became the number one form of professional communication.

Productivity increased for some employees, with the top factors in the UK less commuting time, more flexibility in working hours and a greater ability to focus without the often unwelcome distractions some offices suffer from.

As a result, a staggering 87% would like to factor in more remote working post-lockdown; 20% went further to state their intention to work from home permanently.

Despite this enthusiasm among employees, there is a degree of reticence among companies around remote working, with 64% of managers citing concerns about the productivity levels among some employees and 57% of senior leadership preferring "traditional ways of working".

Notwithstanding the positive attitudes around remote working, mental health has been in and out of headlines for the duration of the lockdown. Those working at home with children in the house reported a greater decline in mental health (33%), compared with professionals sharing houses with friends (30%), those living with a partner but no children (30%), and those living alone (22%). Half of companies admitted their management team need to have a better understanding of mental health and well-being.

Commenting on the research, Sam Walters, director of professional Services at Robert Walters said: “Economic uncertainty, health fears, furlough, risk of redundancy, reduced or longer hours, social isolation, poor physical work set-up, home schooling – these are all fresh concerns which employees did not have to worry about two months ago.

“Employers should be mindful of these concerns, and if they haven’t done so already should be ramping up the support for staff in this area – whether it be through sharing third party advice and tips, paying for external support, or altering working practices.

“The extended period of remote working means that employers shouldn’t just expect ways of working to return in the same way as before. We have now had the joy of no commute, more time with loved ones, and genuine flexi-hours. Professionals have also had time to reflect on their well-being and identify trigger points – such as pressure from management or long hours – and so will be returning to the workplace with a heightened sense of awareness towards these issues."

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