Working from home seems to be working.
Less than seven per cent of The Logic’s subscribers want to return to the office permanently while only 15 per cent anticipates that their employer will ask them to return full time once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, according to The Logic’s most recent subscriber survey.
The Logic’s subscribers were emailed a private link to an online survey on Monday, July 27, and the survey closed Wednesday, July 29. Respondents’ identities were kept anonymous and duplicates were removed as needed. Subscribers were asked “Moving forward, which of the following working arrangements do you prefer?” Their choices were: working from home, working in an office, a combination of the two. Secondly, they were asked, “To your knowledge, does your workplace plan to work from home beyond the COVID-19 pandemic?” Their choices were: yes, no, in part.
The survey was conducted online between July 27 to 29.
“I’d like some face-to-face time with colleagues but much of what I do can be done at home with electronic connection to the mothership,” one subscriber wrote.
Since the pandemic began, several major tech companies including Shopify, Facebook and Waterloo-based OpenText have announced long-term plans to allow work from home. Tuesday, Uber joined Google in allowing staff to work remotely until July 2021.
The majority of respondents favoured a hybrid model with seventy per cent preferring a combination of remote and office work going forward. Twenty-three per cent would like to work from home exclusively.
Lisa Fulford-Roy, senior vice-president of client strategy of CBRE Canada, said that she has seen increased interest in flexible work spaces as more employees opt to work from home—a trend that was underway before the pandemic, but appears to have accelerated. In the past month, she’s started hearing from firms interested in creating the kind of arrangements employees will want long term, a shift from earlier in the pandemic when the focus was on retrofitting offices for social distancing.
“Most of us are not investing in the short term,” Fulford-Roy said. “Business continuity and health are certainly bigger concerns right now than making short-term temporary retrofits, which can cost a lot and may not be relevant longer term.”
While firms are considering making changes, she expects few to ditch their office spaces completely. Instead, employees might opt to work from home, the office and coworking spaces as needed. “As much as there will be extremes that come out of this, I think many will fall in the middle with a flexible arrangement,” she said.
Most of The Logic’s subscribers see the appeal of flexible work arrangements that allow them to drop into the office on their schedule. Many subscribers noted that their preference for working at home or in the office depends on the kind of work they’re doing. Subscribers consistently said that they prefer being at home for focused work like research or writing, but that collaborative work is best done in the office.
The Logic also asked subscribers whether their workplaces are planning to return to the office once the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided. Thirty-seven per cent of respondents said their companies will continue working from home, and 48 per cent said they will work from home in part. Only 15 per cent expect to return to the office full time.
Several respondents indicated that their workplaces will let employees decide whether to go back to the office.
Fulford-Roy said she expects individual workers and teams to lead some discussions on striking the balance between working remotely and in the office. “Teams are going to know best how they can operate, and where they’re going to have gaps,” she said.
In terms of timelines, several subscribers said they expect to continue working remotely at least until January 2021, or until a vaccine proves widely effective. Others said their workplaces are working on a long-term strategy or taking a “wait-and-see” approach.
One subscriber said they work at a startup “that would have likely been looking for office space in the near future.” Instead, they’ve decided to make the most of the shift toward working from home.
Another who said their firm had never been a “work-from-home type of company” expects in-office work to once again become the default, but predicted “it won’t be as hard a line as in the past.”
Fulford-Roy said it’s too early to know how workplace changes will affect commercial real estate. While she said some organizations will give up space, real estate demand might go up as companies look to use their spaces more flexibly when employees are in.
“They might be offsetting individual space for collaboration space,” she said.
Nearly a quarter of The Logic’s subscribers who responded to the survey said they would prefer to work from home full time. Of those, several said that saving time on commuting makes for a more efficient work day. Other subscribers indicated that their preference for working from home was unique to the COVID-19 pandemic—citing health risks and lack of childcare.
While some subscribers said that flexible or remote work improves work-life balance, others are missing a clear distinction between their personal and professional lives.
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“The boundaries between life and home are so, so blurry. It’s harder to give myself clues that I am ‘not’ at work and instead I feel I am always at work (just with less cool outfits and no make up),” one wrote.
Of the small number of subscribers who said they’d like to return to the office, another said “WFH is alienating, inefficient and uncomfortable.”
Many subscribers said they were already working from home before the pandemic began, running contrary to the idea that a shift to remote work is a new thing.