The office remains a preferable environment for the majority of workers who oppose the idea of working from home every day after the COVID-19 crisis ends, according to Gensler Research Institute’s new “US Work From Home Survey 2020.”
Tallying responses from more than 2,200 U.S.-based workers, the survey looked at multiple generations, 11 industries and various roles, from professional staff to senior leaders. It found only 12 per cent of respondents desire to work from home full time. Most want to return because their home doesn’t match certain aspects of the office, namely “people,” according to 74 per cent of respondents.
“What people are missing the most is the ability for impromptu face-to-face time, but also scheduled meetings with colleagues in the office, socializing and that feeling of being a part of the community,” says Annie Bergeron, design director at Gensler. “It’s the hustle-bustle of being together and collaborating, and a little less of a structured format that we have now with remote collaboration.”
At least 70 per cent of workers want to return the majority of the week, with 26 per cent preferring one or two days at home. At least 30 per cent desire even more work-from-home days.
“What they’re really looking for is flexibility,” Bergeron says, delving beneath the numbers. “Our research shows time and time again that people are at their peak effectiveness when they have choice and balance. Work from home is going to become one of the choices available to people.”
Those who do want to return expect critical changes: more space, less desk sharing and more support for virtual and mobile work. The majority also feel positively about certain measures their employer would enact to make the workplace safer, such as reduced shared spaces, social distancing and work from home.
Findings also reveal the pandemic was many workers’ first experience working from home. Only one in ten did so prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Most people are now working remotely, and doing it successfully—a revelation Bergeron says. But if it will become a revolution remains to be seen. At the very least it will “allow forced work styles to evolve.”
Not every generation is enjoying working from home to the same degree, the survey also found. Younger respondents are struggling more with staying up-to-date. Baby boomers and gen-Xers know what’s expected of them and feel they accomplish more at the end of the day, but millennials and Generation Z feel more stressed and report getting less work done. They also feel like they aren’t making a difference working from home.
“It’s a little counterintuitive because you would think that millennials or Generation Z have grown up with technology and are used to it; that this is really natural and easy for them,” Bergeron points out. “At this stage in their career they love to socialize with co-workers and be part of a work culture; the peer group is very important to them. We’re finding they are most lost in this whole thing.”
Another key aspect younger workers are missing is the mentor-mentee relationship, which “thrives in-person,” in the office.
“More senior workers, who know what their role is in an organization or perhaps have a home office or a backyard, with slightly different amenities and more independence at work, tend to be more satisfied with the work-from-home experience,” says Bergeron. “The paradox is that they are also the people needed back at work—to offer those mentor-mentee relationships.”
Going forward, employers will have to take a close look when making decisions for the future workplace. Major shifts to work routines possibly hold the potential to create new, more balanced ones that empower each worker, no matter what the majority desires.
“There is no one-size-fits all; it will be up to employers to survey their workers—or discover upon a return to work—what works best for which segment and then allow for that flexibility,” says Bergeron.