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Work & Education

In a Not-So Remote Future, Work & Education Go Digital

November 2020 Edition

Key findings: A fully remote workforce? Not quite yet. Returning to the office somes with COVID concerns, and what workers expect of their employers to keep them safe. Remote work shifts worker's expectations. Find out what they look for in new opportunities. Lastly, lack of in-person connection negatively affects perception of online learning. How students and caregivers feel the social distance.

To reopen, companies face a staggered and complicated process, defined by government guidance enacted as part of regional COVID-19 response. Businesses requiring on-site employees must rapidly adjust to accommodate a safe work environment. Others must accommodate a balance of on-site, hybrid and fully remote teams.

Educators face a similar burden. As schools undergo regional phases of reopening, institutions are developing ways to allow access to quality levels of learning while translating what is typically an in-person experience into digital mediums that provide value and keep both students and teachers safe.

With students and employees often in the same household, remote learning and remote work challenges become interconnected. This time serves as a period of experimentation, with innovation bearing potential to shape what people want from employers and educators in the future.

The transition to remote work

According to our research, employees are mostly satisfied with how their company transitioned to remote work.

Image of pie chart showing 64% of employees say their companies did an above average or excellent job transitioning to remote work.

However, the transition to a completely remote workforce is still relatively uncommon. While 54 percent of employees can work remotely to some extent, less than a third believe they can do their entire job outside of the office. The divide is greater across regions. Nearly half of workers in North America say they can do their entire job from home, but only 30 percent of European workers and less than 25 percent of workers in the Middle East and APAC feel the same.

How much of your work can you do remotely?

Beautifully designed bubble chart that shows 54% of workers feel the can work remotely, 46% cannot work remotely. 29%  feel they can do all of their jobs remotely and 34% feel they can do most of their jobs remotely.

The workplace experience, redefined

Work throughout the pandemic presented different realities for those adjusting to life at home and for others adjusting to a “new normal.” Despite differences, both remote and non-remote workers say that the availability of a global vaccine is one of the most important factors that will make them feel comfortable working on-site in the future.

For non-remote workers, health and safety is a priority

Health and safety is a top concern for those who cannot work from home. For close to half of non-remote employees, something as simple as hand sanitizers at the workplace would make them feel more comfortable going to work every day.

What would make you feel more comfortable going to work?
(Multiple responses)
Chart listing first 9 of 17 options that respondents selected when asked what would make them feel more comfortable returning to work. 42% said hand sanitizer stations, 35% availability of a vaccine, 34% said enhanced cleaning of facilities, 34% said mask requirements for entry, and 29% said limiting number of people, followed by lesser valued responses.
Chart listing remaining 8 options that respondents selected when asked what would make them feel more comfortable returning to work, including options from limiting capacity in communal spaces to installing partitions, to securing care for children or family, among others.

Remote workers see returning to the office as a risk

Those who are working from home face a different debate: the efficacy of returning to the office and the potential risks that come with it. Globally, 60 percent of remote workers say risk of COVID-19 exposure at work or commuting to work is a main concern when returning to the office. Older employees (ages 54-65+) are more likely to fear being exposed to COVID-19 at their place of work when compared to younger generations.

Image of pie chart showing 67% of remote workers are concerned over lost time from commuting and getting ready for work.

Outside of COVID-19 exposure, 67 percent of remote workers are concerned over time lost from commuting and getting ready for work. Over a third worry about spending more money on out-of-office expenses – like lunch or coffee – when returning to the office.

Silver linings shape employee expectations

It’s these unforeseen benefits – the ability to get time back or save a few dollars – that are beginning to change how remote employees view the office. What began as a necessity to adhere to pandemic conditions is now beginning to take shape as a tangible reality as people begin to adapt, readjust and reprioritize how they spend their time and what it takes to be productive.

Graph depicting responses to the question: "If it were possible to go into an office or work from home going forward, which would you perfer? 34% of respondents said they would go into the office most days, but work from home 1-2 days per week. 30% said they would work from home most days, but work from the office 1-2 days per week, and only 15% said they would go into the office every day.

According to our research, 64 percent of employees want a hybrid work-from-home schedule moving forward. Workers across regions have varying ideas of what that would look like. Employees in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Singapore, Italy and Japan favor spending a majority of the week in the office. In the U.S. and Canada, employees want to spend more time at home, with close to 40 percent saying they’d rather work remotely full-time.

Two pie charts depicting that 53% of workers say flexible work hours are important when evaluating new job opportunities, and 43% of workers say ability to work remotely is important when evaluating new job opportunities.

Distractions, distractions...

To work from home, people need a place where they can feel focused and comfortable. Building that ideal workspace, however, is a bit of a challenge. Only 20 percent of at-home workers have a room specifically designated as an at-home office. Instead, a majority have found ways to repurpose space, whether it’s setting up a desk in a bedroom or living room, working from a couch, a kitchen table or something in-between.

For those who have a space that they can call their own, working from home seems like a viable option. When at-home situations are uncomfortable, inconsistent or just downright distracting, the office seems like a much better place to be.

Distractions at home, staying motivated and unplugging from work are the top three struggles employees face when working remotely, signaling a need for better work-life balance.

Current at-home workspace

Four Pie charts showing the current at-home workspace, 17% regularly change locations, 31% repurposed another space, 32# dedicated a workspace in a room, and 20% have a dedicated office.

If possible, how would you prefer to work in the future?

A bar chart showing preferences for how respondents want to work in the future. for those who are going into the office every day, 34% will regularly change locations, 15% will repurpose another space. For those working from home every day, only 15% prefer to regularly change locations and 40% prefer to have a dedicated office.

Having other people at home may also provide unwanted distraction. Workers who live with others are more likely to want to spend more time at the office than those who live alone.

However, people who live alone are more likely to struggle with staying motivated and report feeling more isolated than others. Younger employees (ages 18-34) are also more likely to report feelings of isolation and issues staying motivated when compared to older generations, regardless of living situation.

If it were possible to go into an office or work from home going forward, which would you prefer?

A chart depicting working from office or home across 3 main groups: people who live alone, people who live with kids, and people wo live with others but not kids. All three groups prefer to go into the office most days, but work 1-2 days from home, averaging 33% for this preference.

Building a connected workforce

Outside of living situations, employees also face the unexpected. According to network intelligence company ThousandEyes, disruptions in global internet service increased 63 percent in March 2020 as the world began entering various stages of quarantine and rapidly shifting to remote ways of working, studying and living.

Workers need the right tools to get their work done. According to a study from Lenovo Group, 70 percent of global workers bought new technology to help work remotely, with 40 percent partially or fully funding the purchase.

Moving forward, workers are looking to employers to help overcome technological barriers when setting up their at-home work environment, with around 40 percent (respectively) looking for assistance in subsidizing increased Wi-Fi costs, equipment and office supplies.

What would you like your company to do to make remote working a better experience?
(Multiple responses)
Bar chart depicting what consumers would like their company to do to make remote work a better experience. The top three requests are 45% wishing for subsidies for Internet or Wi-FI costs, 41% for better or newer hardware, and 41% for reimbursement for home office equipment.
Bar chart depicting the digital tools employees use to communicate with colleagues. Only 19% use an employee portal, 51% use personal/cell phone, 35% use group message services, and 22% using social media, with less commonly reported usages.

On-Site Workers Lack Digital Tools

Our research found that a majority of on-site workers do not use company-issued devices, applications or software to manage day-to-day work communications. Less than 20 percent use an employee portal or app to conduct business, instead using personal devices or third-party messaging apps that are not as secure as company-owned systems.

Online learners feel the social distance

Like remote work, students are beginning to blend digital tools into their learning environments. Students in the U.S. (62 percent) and UAE (68 percent) report the highest levels of remote-only learning programs. In Japan (72 percent), France (65 percent), Germany (64 percent) Singapore (60 percent) and Australia (56 percent), a majority of children are back in school full-time, with hybrid learning programs in place to support in-school efforts. Students in Italy, Canada and the UK remain divided between fully remote, hybrid and full in-person learning programs.

Though 71 percent of people prefer some type of remote learning program, 74 percent say online classes provide either the same or worse learning experiences. People still want in-person activity to feel productive, with a majority saying it’s harder to ask questions, work collaboratively and participate in hands-on learning while at home.

Chart showing how online education compares to in person learning. 74% say online classes provide either the same or worse learning experience. Additionally, 85% of parents say there has been some degree of negative impact on their child's academics due to remote learning.

Why do you feel in-person learning is better than online learning?

(Multiple responses) 

Remote learning puts pressure on parents

Parents are also feeling the pressure of remote education, with at-home situations influencing how they structure time at work. Of parents surveyed, 53 percent either reduced or adjusted their hours to help support online learning. This number was higher in the UAE (70 percent), Singapore (64 percent) and Germany (56 percent) when compared to other regions. Five percent of parents globally left their jobs completely to help their children with remote learning.

How much stress or anxiety do you/your children have related to online learning?

Parents with children who are back in the classroom are also more likely to prefer spending more time in the office in the future, perhaps signaling a need for normalcy in the household to feel comfortable returning to more traditional work settings.

Preference for working at home vs. in the office by type of school setting for the children

The Digital Life of Work and Education

Digital tools have allowed employers and educators to continue to operate despite pandemic conditions that otherwise would have prevented growth. As students and workers continue to rely on digital means to learn and remain productive, organizations have the opportunity to create new ways to keep people connected and provide elevated experiences.

Understand how and where remote work fits within the organization.

The ability to work remotely largely depends on job responsibility and the type of work an organization supports. But as remote work becomes a more tangible option, employees who can work from home will want the ability to do so in the future. This sets the stage for a new type of hybrid workforce and employers must be ready to embrace new work needs to attract and retain the right talent. Employers must continue to figure out how remote work fits into their organization and invest in the digital tools needed to foster an environment that’s collaborative, inclusive and productive for employees both inside the office or at home.

Create a workplace experience that makes employees feel safe.

With COVID-19 still a concern, employers must reimagine the workplace to focus on health and safety. These precautions could be physical, like installing partitions between desks, ramping up cleaning procedures and leveraging contactless technologies to streamline in-person interactions. It also comes down to people management, like staggered shifts and limiting the amount of people in the workplace until it’s safe to increase capacity. Employees must evaluate their physical workspaces and provide an environment that provides this type of experience for both employees and customers.

Keep the workforce connected.

Whether working remotely or on site, workers need a way to communicate with employers in a way that doesn’t put company or employee privacy at risk. Strengthen employee portals and mobile applications to help employees keep track of their schedules, report instances of illness, provide training and communicate with leadership. A strong communications platform can also help companies ensure critical messaging reaches employees at the right time, keeping the workforce up-to-date in times of crisis.

Make education accessible and collaborative.

Educators are struggling to make in-person experiences digitally friendly. Establishing the right set of digital tools that allow for better collaboration, the ability to ask questions and complete hands-on work will be critical for educators looking to provide better learning experiences for students.

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Digital map of the world's countries, highlighting the countries this research collected data from: United States, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Japan and Australia.

Methodology

Data was collected through an online survey sent to 7,000 people in 10 countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, and the UK. We supplemented and compared our findings with secondary research from publicly-available sources. AI Labs, a research arm of Publicis Sapient, also contributed to this report.

Participant Demographics
Chart depicting gender split demographics of our research, showing 51% Male, 49% Female,
Chart depicting age range demographics of our research,  with 24% of the respondents in each the 25-34 and 35-44 brackets, 18% in the 45-54 bracket, and 14% in the 55-64 bracket, with lower ranges in the 18-24 and 65+ bracket.
Chart depicting demographics of our research, showing employment figuresof a 59% majority being employed full time, 18% part time, with lesser percentages for unemployment and retirement.
Chart depicting household composition demographics of our research, showing 14% live alone, 19% with a spouse or partner, 30% with children and partner, 5% with roomates,  19% parents, 6% multi-generational and 7% other.
Chart depicting demographics of our research, showing