When COVID-19 caused countries across the world to institute “lockdowns”, hundreds of millions of office workers suddenly found themselves working entirely remotely.
The way this has impacted people’s daily routines is clear from GWI Work – our data set which tracks day-to-day working practices and behaviors of professionals in 10 countries.
Back in 2019, 1 in 4 of the professionals we surveyed said remote working wasn’t permitted by their company in any circumstances – a figure which peaked at 50% among workers in Japan.
A further 1 in 2 professionals said that home working was permitted in some cases, leaving just 1 in 4 who said the practice was broadly permitted.
Almost overnight, this situation changed drastically; reflected by the vast increases in remote working (and working at home specifically) that we see in GWI Work’s 2020 release.
Working from home holds global appeal.
Home working is up 40 points in France, the U.S. and the UK. It’s climbed by nearly 50 points in Spain and Singapore, while having risen by close to 60 percentage points in Brazil.
Numerous other location types have seen notable increases, from professionals opting to work in shared offices and coffee shops, for example.
This has prompted one obvious question: what will happen once the threat of coronavirus eventually recedes. Will office life return to pre-pandemic normality? Or, will companies need to embrace a future in which remote working is a much more mainstream proposition?
In some countries, it’s been reported that various corporations are planning to down-size or relocate offices. While this has been more prominent in some places than others, there’s a clear sense of enthusiasm among professionals who work for more progressively-oriented organizations such as these.
In one of our Custom studies on coronavirus behaviors and attitudes, we asked professionals how interested they were in working from home permanently.
Strikingly, 3 in 4 B2B professionals across 18 diverse countries expressed at least some interest in permanent home working. In no country did this level of interest fall below 60%.
Of course, expressed sentiment won’t always convert to reality. Some companies simply won’t permit it, and it’s possible that a sense of fatigue over home working could eventually lead some of these workers to long for a more varied routine that includes a mix of home and office locations.
Even so, with levels of interest in, and support for home working having grown this much, it’s a topic companies are going to have to address.
Those with remote work experience pre-pandemic are interested in continuing.
To try to understand which specific motivations are driving professionals to want more remote working, we ran further research in the U.S. and UK in August.
As part of this, we asked professionals how often they worked at home prior to the pandemic, how frequently they were currently doing it, and how often they’d like to do it once the coronavirus crisis has been resolved.
Among those for whom home working is applicable, just under 3 in 10 professionals in the UK and U.S. want to work from home most or all of the time in the future.
A further 1 in 4 want to do so at least once a week, while just 1 in 5 say they’d never like to work from home.
Based on our findings, the group of professionals interested in a permanent, full-time work-from-home solution had a diverse range of remote working experience prior to the pandemic.
Just over a third of them were already full-time remote workers, so it’s hardly surprising they want to continue with the same arrangement.
However, almost the same number had never worked from home before coronavirus hit, and it’s this group in particular who are craving the biggest transformation in terms of how their post-COVID lifestyles could look.
This trend is particularly pronounced among professionals in the U.S.
The perceived advantages of remote working are broad.
Other datapoints in our Custom research give some context for what’s driving those individuals who want to work from home all or most of the time.
Their home set-up is one component of this; they’re more likely to have a dedicated home office (almost half of them have this), and less likely to say they work from locations such as their dining room, kitchen, or living room.
Future location plays a part too:
A third of those looking for a permanent work-from-home solution say the pandemic has caused them to reconsider where they live and consider moving to a different area.
The number one reason for this is wanting a change in lifestyle, closely followed by changed priorities – such as wanting to live somewhere quieter, and wanting more space.
These individuals over-index on all of these criteria, whereas they under-index for things like wanting to be nearer to family or wanting to take advantage of current financial assistance available for home buyers from the government. Clearly, it’s about wanting to change their living situation for the better.
This sentiment is present once again when we ask professionals about the advantages they see from home-working.
Top of the list for all groups is not having to commute (especially important in the UK), followed by having a more relaxed environment and being able to eat more meals at home. In these areas, we don’t see much variation between professionals who are able to work from home, and those who are interested in doing so on a permanent basis.
Elsewhere, there are meaningful differences between the two audiences which give us a sense of what drives people to want to work remotely as a permanent solution.
Individuals interested in doing this are considerably more likely to say it allows them to better manage their time, that it gives them more opportunity to complete jobs around the house, that it leads to fewer distractions, and – above all else – that it’s better for productivity.
Those professionals who would like to work from home permanently think it’s more efficient for them, and therefore more efficient for their company.
Where advantages outweigh the challenges
Tellingly, this audience is less likely than the average B2B home worker to see various challenges or frustrations associated with having to perform their role remotely.
For example, they’re half as likely to worry about looking after their mental health while working at home (10% do).
In addition, they’re at least 10 points less likely to cite maintaining focus throughout the day as a challenge, or to say that not having social interactions with colleagues would be an issue.
For this audience, the perceived advantages considerably outweigh the challenges – and it’s the drive to be a more efficient worker that’s having the most significant impact over their desire to work remotely on a permanent basis.
As companies around the world look to the future, how they respond to this sentiment is a crucial factor they’ll need to weigh up: today’s professionals want to be more efficient and productive, and they see home-working as a key way to achieving that.