In the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many workers across the globe are being asked to stay home.

The current public health crisis will have a lasting impact on working practices across industries, enlightening companies on the benefits of flexible and remote working.

Our 2019 Work data set, covering 10 markets and surveying 17,000 knowledge workers, reveals key insights into workplace behaviors and attitudes among workers across the globe.

It therefore offers insights into which types of businesses, sectors, and countries are best equipped for remote working in the coming weeks and months.

3 in 4 knowledge workers say their employers permit remote working to some extent.

While for 1 in 4 workers, working remotely is broadly accepted.

During these challenging times remote working has now become an everyday reality for many knowledge workers across various sectors.

You also can also find full reports and updates on the consumer response to COVID-19 in our hub.

1. Remote working comes more naturally to some.

The option to work remotely is often dependent on the internal structure of an employee’s company.

Working from home is no longer the domain of lower-paid jobs like telemarketing and customer service positions

Tolerance for remote working actually correlates with increased seniority and achievement levels in the workplace. For example, 83% of those in executive management positions report being permitted to work remotely, while 63% of general office workers have this same benefit.

International organizations are also more likely to offer the option to work from home (87%) than locally-based companies (69%). 

Remote working is sometimes associated with newer, smaller companies with attractive remote working provision, but it looks as if the reality of the software and infrastructure investment needed puts larger organizations on a stronger footing.

Additionally, company age is important, for businesses that are 1-5 years old, 82% of employees can work from home, this decreases to 69% for businesses that are 21-50 years old.

Likewise, company size is a significant factor. We found that 70% of employers in emerging small businesses (ESBs) permit employees to work from home to some extent, this increases to 80% for employees in enterprise companies.

Many small businesses hit by enforced store closures are bracing for the worst, and remote working brings on extra challenges for companies that size. Employees from firms with less than 250 workers are 1.61 times more likely to say their company never communicates its strategic goals with them (13%). 

Even without the current need to work remotely, employees in these kinds of companies can feel disengaged from strategy – something that clearly needs to be addressed with the rapid strategic changes COVID-19 will bring. 

Small businesses often rely on limited infrastructure and ad-hoc meetings, procedures which may struggle to survive the transition to remote working. Current events are exasperating communication issues and employees may feel more isolated, resulting in diminished productivity. 

These are challenges that small businesses have to be aware of as they move to working remotely across the board.

On the other hand, large, global businesses, such as Google and Apple, are encouraging remote working for its employees. Larger companies are better suited to remote working primarily due to their access to innovative collaboration and communication services.

2. Technology is the clincher.

There’s a strong correlation between businesses which permit remote working and those that have up-to-date technology.

Among remote workers, just over half say their company is either an innovator or at least an early adopter of new technology or software products or services. 

But, among workers who cannot work from home, just 3 in 10 say the same of their companies. In fact, among this, group 2 in 10 say their company is a laggard – it only adopts new products or services once they’ve become mainstream.

Ultimately, remote working can only be successful if companies have effective digital collaboration and communication tools that are accessible to everyone.

Among remote workers, 35% agree that collaboration tools, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, are effective ways for teams to communicate with each other – falling to just 17% of those not permitted to work from home.

Yet, even among employees that can work remotely, their perspectives differ by country.

In India, 42% of this group think collaborative tools are effective for communication, but this falls to 25% in France and just 19% in Germany.

Age matters too; among Gen Z remote workers, 42% say that collaboration tools are effective for communication, but for baby boomer remote workers, this falls to just 17%. 

While seniority may be rewarded with work-from-home options, often it’s the younger employees who are best set to use the tools which make remote working efficient.

As coronavirus forces more businesses to adopt remote working, many are recognizing the usefulness of these tools.

Slack’s group messaging app grew by 7,000 paying customers since the start of February, or 40% more than it normally has in an entire quarter, while Microsoft Teams had 44m users in a single day last week, it first surpassed 20m only four months ago.

These tools are becoming increasingly crucial to companies adhering to social distancing measures, but it remains to be seen just how efficiently new users will be able to adopt and adapt to these services.

3. Tech and telecoms lead the pack. 

Certain sectors and countries stand out from the rest as having above average work-from- home options.

Globally, 75% of knowledge workers can work from home, but among different markets this fluctuates, increasing to 81% in India and 77% in the UK and falling dramatically to 50% in Japan.

Culture and state economics are key elements to these differences. As working from home is now effectively mandated by governments, countries with a conservative working culture (like Japan) are having to adapt fast.

India’s knowledge workers have grown in number over the last twenty years and many foreign businesses are taking advantage of the high cost differential by outsourcing work to Indian remote working freelance workers. 

The effect of coronavirus on freelancers in India is yet to be seen. As Chandrika Pasricha, CEO of India’s Flexing It, reports: “For us business is actually up – we continue to see strong growth in demand for our consultants, both in India and from our international clients who leverage us for remote consulting or research support.”

While the opportunity to work remotely may fluctuate across the globe, certain sectors stand out globally as the leading advocates for working from home.

At 87%, employees in the technology and communication sector are the most likely to be permitted to work from home and 1.5 times as likely as the average to be an innovator when it comes to adopting new technology or software products or services. 

Businesses in this sector are often incorporating new technologies before anyone else and this is making working from home far easier.

Chart showing remote working by country and sector.

Large, multinational tech firms, including Twitter and Facebook were the first companies to promote remote working during the coronavirus pandemic.

What raises concerns is that the sectors key to everyday life – namely, healthcare, education, and government – are the least likely to permit remote working.

During the coronavirus pandemic, making sure employees from these vital sectors can get to work and do their job safely, is a major challenge for many affected countries.

There are numerous ways governments can do this, for instance by restricting travel to only key workers and by reducing the strain on medical staff through social-distancing.

4. Remote working could help overcome industry challenges.

The coronavirus pandemic is drastically affecting all industries. 

Employees are being asked to work from home and if infrastructure isn’t already in place to facilitate this change, businesses will struggle.

Among employees who are permitted to work from home, 64% say that at their company, they have the tools and systems in place to adapt quickly to industry changes. This falls to just 47% among employees who can’t work from home. 

Businesses that are able to implement remote working at scale appear to create a more agile working culture, that lets them respond quickly to sudden developments – pandemics included. Remote working can bring wider benefits to a business when properly implemented.

Chart showing home is crucial for companies looking to adapt to industry changes.

The economic threat of coronavirus is not industry specific, it’s globally penetrating and incredibly disruptive. 

But companies that have tried and tested work-from-home policies are best equipped to overcome significant industry changes.

It should be noted that despite the proliferation of collaborative online tools, remote working can often complicate communication between employees.

For instance, 51% of employees that can work from home agree that it can be challenging to communicate with co-workers in different teams, departments, or offices – this falls to just 39% of employees who can’t work from home. 

Any business’ remote working solution to coronavirus has to address this as part of its operational plan.

What’s more, there are other costs for employees associated with remote working such as a tendency to work longer hours

Employee burnout becomes a real factor when workers are based outside an office space, and this has to be watched closely. It’s not just about creating a culture that responds quickly to industry changes, but ensuring employees maintain a positive wellbeing while doing so.

Despite this, now that working from home has become a forced reality for many people, it’s those companies that have promoted remote working previously which are best set to overcome this challenge.

Click to access our coronavirus hub

You’ve read our blog, now see our platform

Every business has questions about its audiences, GWI has answers. Powered by consistent, global research, our platform is an on-demand window into their world.