Last week, in a Remotely webinar, we presented some key findings from the 2020 RemoteReady Study of attitudes towards remote work, what works and what doesn’t.

We also presented the future lines of inquiry these results surfaced.

At only six months into the Now of Work being #remotework, there is still a lot to dig deeper into and learn, so where these data take us is as important and what they told us.

Methodology: We asked nearly 200 of our closest friends…

OK, that headline may be slightly hyperbolic, but we did have 194 respondents, 80% of whom came directly through the social networks of the Remotely team, and were therefore intentionally heavily skewed towards people who are used to working remotely already and had a general acceptance of it.

To be specific about their working status: 

  • 48% of respondents are full-time employees, 27% of whom also have a side hustle
  • 21% are freelancers, contractors or consultants, but 43% of them are looking for full-time employment
  • 15% are entrepreneurs or business owners
  • 6% are un- or under-employed (beating the national average #inthesetimes

And about their experience working remotely before COVID19:

  • 43% already worked from home three or more days before the pandemic
  • Only 17% never worked from home before the pandemic
  • But regardless of their own work from home status, two-thirds worked with colleagues in different locations from them…again, pre-pandemic

Now that we’re six months into an accelerated, reactive work from home mandate?

  • Only 13% had their opinion of working from home go down
  • While 42% have a more positive view now, and the vast majority want to work from home more (or even only) post-pandemic

The two modalities of our ideal working environment

We asked folks to tell us how close their real working life was to their ideal working life…with 100 being completely ideal. Then we asked questions to prompt some thinking about what an ideal work environment is, taking title, salary and other typical job logistic questions out of the equation. Instead we asked about where people liked to work and doing what kind of work and engagement with others. We discovered that people know what they like, and the average person is only about 60% of the way to that ideal life.  It was clear from the responses that there were two primary modalities of work in people’s mind’s eye.

At home in deep thought.

The number one work modality was to have time to focus, create, ideate. Alone. At home.

At the office doing team and group activities.

The number two work modality was doing brainstorming, creating, and ideating with 

groups of colleagues…at a company office.

It’s PRO and CON time

This is not to say that these two modalities cannot be supported in today’s work reality, but there are clear benefits and challenges…some internal, some external.

Our respondents pretty much love all the personal benefits about working from home…the freedom and flexibility, the lack of punishing commutes, a greater feeling of autonomy and control. They even think remote work can make you more productive and potentially more mindful of how to work with others creatively. BUT. There’s always a but. And for our cohort, boundaries are the biggest challenge. We are worried about being expected to “on” 24/7 (which, let’s be honest, became a problem the minute we figured out our phones were like little computers in our pockets). We are also worried about the ways in which we distract ourselves…social media, pets, kids, neighbors, TV…there are many distractions in a home environment, especially if you don’t have a stable, dedicated working space.

Bottom line, when we asked our respondents to explain how they’d make the case for a more permanent work from home approach to employers, they relied on two factors: Hard cold data about cost savings and efficiencies, and the expectation that remote workers are happier workers, and happier workers are more loyal, productive workers.

It was a little harder to nudge people to think about how they’d make the case to employees if they wanted them to go back to the office. Some flat out refused to make such a case, others focused on humans as social animals who need to interact with one another to create their best stuff. And, given we know that women are still more burdened when it comes to household and child-rearing duties, a vocal contingent offered that working from an office was like Calgon taking you away.

Optimism about this new normal

The fact is that a solid majority of respondents are optimists. They believe everyone can learn to be a great remote employee. They believe that managers can figure out how to be competent and capable and plugged in. They believe this regardless of age, experience, even where someone falls on the introvert to extrovert spectrum. Respondents rejected identity-oriented advantages or red flags, instead laying everything at the feet of communication skills. They believe this new remote work reality could be good for society too, leading to happier pets , a cleaner environment, and maybe even a more diverse workforce.

Where do we go from here?

There are many interesting questions to dig deeper into thanks to the survey results, these are just the first three lines of inquiry that surfaced for me:

Line of Inquiry #1: We need mutual empathy building efforts

It didn’t take long for companies to start thinking that a more dispersed workforce might allow them to do location-based pay cuts. And that will be strongly resisted by workers. First because pay equity is already so uneven, the specter of such pay cuts will complicate matters further, but also because workers are quite tangibly taking on more expenses when they move to 100% working from home. Energy costs, water, meals, better internet, equipment, and furniture…unless a pay cut comes with stipends to cover such new expenses (and by the way stipends and bonuses are not considered as employee-friendly as just raising their salary) don’t expect pay cuts to go down quietly.

Conversely, when employees thought about benefits and challenges, they cared most about personal benefits and seemed to see organizational challenges somewhat abstractly. Perfect example: The challenge of being micromanaged was one that got the least response as a personal challenge, but the highest response as a perceived company challenge. The challenges that folks projected onto companies were all about team communication and collaboration, not about individual productivity or capabilities. There’s a sense of remove.

How should we build mutual empathy between management and employees…an age-old work challenge in a new modern-day construct.

Line of Inquiry #2: Communication skills, not Identity. Utopian or privileged perspective?

When I first saw how people rejected identity attributes as contributing to or detracting from one’s ability to be successful in a remote work environment I thought that was lovely…I expected people might expect older, more experienced and/or more introverted workers as naturally more able to adapt. And the converse. Not so much. Instead people identified communication skills as the most important signifiers. Sounds good, but we don’t all communicate the same. Unconscious bias can bleed into how we assess someone’s communications so easily. It’s how “culture fit” has been used for years to justify homogenous hiring. So, how do we continue efforts to break down such homogeneity and uplift inclusivity?

Line of Inquiry #3: What do we do about the unconvinced minority?

Finally, yes, the strong majority of people enjoy remote work and see mostly optimistic promise as it becomes more standard and widespread. But there’s a non-trivial cohort, maybe 20%, who are much more pessimistic. They think some people will never be suited for remote work, that some managers aren’t competent to handle it, that they didn’t like it then, and don’t like it now. These folks are in your company, and they cannot be dismissed. How do we help those folks get more on board and feel more comfortable? How do we exercise the utmost empathy, and get the same from them?

Obviously there is so much more to learn, to dig into, to understand more deeply. And we’ll be learning on our feet during these, as the cliché goes, “unprecedented times.” The 2020 RemoteReady Study is pointing us in some super interesting directions, and we’ll circle back when we have more to report!!

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