More than 60% of workers say they’d feel uncomfortable returning to a workplace right now
Three out of five people who switched to remote work during the pandemic said they prefer working at home to working in an office
Almost 9 out of 10 employees want the flexibility to work from home at least occasionally

Leaders across the globe are faced with difficult decisions as COVID-19 surges in some areas and drops in others. While most organizations look at measures like new cases, hospitalizations, and testing rates, it is equally important to understand perceptions—how people feel. Taking action on these insights will have an important impact on the customer experience and employee experience of an organization.

In early May, Qualtrics asked thousands of Americans how they felt about venturing out into a world changed by a global pandemic. Did they feel confident going shopping again, attending a sporting event, eating at a restaurant, voting in a polling place — or returning to the office? Two months later we asked the same questions to see how things have changed.

Turns out, America is a little more ready to get back to its pre-pandemic habits than they were before. But their desks at work? Not so much.

In early July, Qualtrics asked thousands of workers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia how they felt about the accidental work-from-home experiment. The majority, especially younger generations, realized they prefer remote work. But most want something a little more blended that allows them to be present for the most important moments — at the office and at home. This research has important implications
Click here to download a pdf summary of the study

Most U.S. employees still don’t feel ready to get back to the office

In May, two out of three Americans (66%) said they would feel uncomfortable returning to the workplace. In early July, that number had only dropped by five percentage points to 61%. In fact, workers of all ages, from Boomers to Gen Z, felt equally uncomfortable with the idea of going back to the workplace — a finding that stayed consistent over two months.

61% of employees would feel uncomfortable returning to the workplace right now 

However, the large majority of employees (80%) trust their company leadership to make the best decision on when to return employees to the workplace, while 11% say they’re neutral, and 9% say they disagree. Two months ago, only 69% said they trusted their company to make that decision, 16% said they were neutral, and 15% said they disagreed.

But when they do return, workers expect their employers to take action and enact safety precautions.

  • 93% of workers say it’s important to them that social distancing is enforced when they return to the workplace

  • 90% say it’s important to them that the number of people in in-person meetings is limited

  • 87% say it’s important to them that all employees are required to wear masks

  • 82% say it’s important to them that employee temperatures are checked each day before they enter the building

Most employees around the world actually prefer working from home

In July, Qualtrics asked workers from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia how they felt about working from home and how work has changed since employees left their offices behind. While it turns out quarantine may not be everyone’s favorite activity, some are beginning to warm up to the idea of remote work.
Three out of five people who switched to remote work during the pandemic said they prefer working at home to working in an office. But that number changes drastically by age.
3 out of 5 prefer working at home
Less than 27% of people under 55 prefer working from an office. Those 65 and older are the only age group where the majority (nearly 48%) prefer to work in the office. In fact, those 65 and older are almost twice as likely (86%) to prefer working from an office than those 34 and under.

Less than 27% of people under 55 who switched to remote work prefer working from an office 

Kids had no effect on whether people prefer to work from home, but marital status did:

  • 63% of married people said they’d prefer to work from home

  • 54% of those who have never been married said they’d prefer to work from home

  • 53% of those who have been divorced said they’d prefer to work from home

And despite some employers’ concerns, the vast majority (90%) say they are equally or more committed to their job than they were before they made the switch to working from home.

Employees prefer working from home more than the office, but they’d rather have both

Most employees prefer to be home, but they’d actually like to see something a little more blended:

  • 32% say they want to work from home part of the time

  • 28% say they want to work from home all the time

  • 27% would like the option to work remotely occasionally

  • 13% want to work from the office

87% of employees want to work from home either all the time, part of the time, or occasionally 

The majority (65%) said their company has implemented new permanent remote work policies since COVID-19. Of those:

  • 41% said they now have the option to permanently split time between the office and home

  • 36% said their companies have told employees they can work from home until the end of the year

  • 10% said they now have the option to work from home permanently

New remote work policies mean some are thinking of a change in scenery

Of those whose companies have now said they can work from home permanently, 43% say they have already considered moving away from the city or state where they live. Almost one in five people (17%) have temporarily relocated because of the pandemic. Of those who have relocated: 30% said they would move if they could make their relocation permanent, and 50% said they would maybe move.
Remote work and relocation
The majority (40%) of those who said they’ve considered moving or decided to move say it’s because they’d just like to try living somewhere new. Nearly the same amount (38%) say it’s because they’d like to get closer to family and friends, 37% say it’s because of the cost of living, while 34% say it’s because they wanted to live in a smaller city or more rural area.

Some are already back in the office — and uncomfortable

Some people have already returned to their workplace, though more than one in three (38%) say they’re uncomfortable being back.

1 in 3 employees who have returned to work feel uncomfortable being back in the office 

But why are those one in three people back in the workplace if they feel uncomfortable?

  • 34% say they returned to work because they’re under financial pressure

  • 19% say their company really needs them in the workplace

  • 16% say they’re worried they’ll be fired if they voice concern

  • 12% say they’re uncomfortable, but not uncomfortable enough to stop going in

The number one thing that makes most employees feel uncomfortable being back in the office:

  • 22% say it’s because of other employees not taking the situation seriously

  • 18% say it’s because of a lack of testing for employees coming back in

  • 14% say it’s because of other employees not wearing masks

  • 14% say it’s because of a recent increase in case counts

  • 12% say it’s because of a lack of sanitization and cleaning supplies

Childcare isn’t employees’ number one concern for feeling uncomfortable being back at the workplace, but only 61% said their childcare has reopened since the start of the pandemic. And only 52% are comfortable sending their child back to childcare.

The top five things employees said that would make them feel safer being back in the workplace are:

  1. Hand sanitizer and cleaning products readily available

  2. Employees required to wear masks

  3. Testing for all employees

  4. A no handshakes or hugs policy

  5. Social distancing implemented and enforced

Is everyone’s mental health still holding up?

The pandemic became a global health crisis, but another crisis lurked beneath the surface: mental health. As people were forced to quarantine and work from home, and as the economy became less stable, the changes took a mental toll on many.

  • 67% of people say their stress level has increased since COVID-19, mostly because of money worries, uncertainty, job insecurity, and fear of the virus itself. Those who say they’re less stressed say it’s because of less pressure, more free time, and no more commute.

  • 62% of people say their anxiety level has increased since COVID-19, for much the same reasons reported for stress.

  • 40% say their productivity level hasn’t increased or decreased since the pandemic started, while 38% say it’s increased, and 22% say it’s decreased.

U.S. consumers are feeling more confident, but still a little wary

People in the U.S. are feeling a little more confident returning to businesses and other public spaces, but they’re still hesitant. In May, nearly half (48%) of Americans thought we would “never get back to normal.” That number has since dropped to 44%.

And though people feel significantly more comfortable doing things like eating at restaurantsattending religious servicesvoting at polling places, and shopping at retail stores than they did two months ago, there are still some activities that give them pause. Going to live concerts or sporting events and riding public transportation still make people the most nervous.

Level of discomfort

What would help people feel more comfortable getting back to business?

Live event

Live events

People feel most uncomfortable attending live events, though slightly less than they did in May. Of those who regularly attend live concerts, 23% say they are unlikely to return in the foreseeable future — compared to 26% in May. And 20% said the same about sporting events — compared to 24% in May.
But even after public health officials say it’s safe, people want to see a few other things happen before they feel comfortable attending a live concert, sporting event or conference. The top three safety measures people found most important in July are:

  1. Mandatory mask-wearing for everyone

  2. Social distancing established and enforced

  3. Temperature checks done on all people entering the event

Restaurant

Restaurants

Many restaurants have, at least partially, reopened, and less than half (45%) of the respondents say they would feel uncomfortable eating at a restaurant now — compared to 68% in May. Only 13% say they’re unlikely to dine-in for the foreseeable future, while 16% said the same in May.
Even after public health officials say it’s safe, people want to see a few other things happen before they feel comfortable eating at a restaurant. The top five safety measures people found most important in July are:

  1. Tables separated by a safe distance

  2. Social distancing established and enforced

  3. Servers and staff are wearing gloves and masks

  4. Temperature checks are done on all people entering the restaurant

  5. All seating is outdoors

Airplane

Flights and public transit

Before asking people to return to the workplace, companies will have to ensure their employees are safe and comfortable traveling on public transit, though the majority still seem wary of doing so: 66% said they’re uncomfortable riding public transportation (compared to 77% in May), and 62% feel uncomfortable flying on an airplane (compared to 75% in May).

Of those who said they regularly flew, 16% said they were unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future — compared to 20% in May.

Even after public health officials say it’s safe, people want to see a few other things happen before they feel comfortable flying or taking public transportation. The top four safety measures people found most important in July are:

  1. Masks are mandatory for every passenger

  2. Seating is assigned with passengers spaced at least 6 feet apart

  3. Temperature checks are performed on everyone who boards

  4. Boarding and unloading of passengers is done in a way that maintains social distancing

Polling place

Polling places

In the U.S., as election season continues to move forward, significantly more people say they feel comfortable voting in a polling place than they did in May: 39% say they feel uncomfortable, while 60% said the same in May.
For public officials working to make in-person voting safe, research shows that after public health officials say it’s safe to do so, people will feel more comfortable in polling places with the following measures in place:

  1. Social distancing is established and can be easily enforced

  2. Masks are mandatory for everyone

  3. Booths are sanitized between every voter

Returning to work and getting back to business

As leaders across the globe make difficult decisions to bring their employees back to work, change remote work policy, or reopen their businesses, they’ll want to consider how people have changed during the pandemic. How confident do people feel, have we learned anything about the way we prefer to work, and is it time to change?

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