Due to the unprecedented impact of COVID-19, the ability to work at home is practically a requirement for much of the world. Many businesses are either shifting or have already shifted their employees to virtual offices; however, this raises a new host of questions. Questions of capability, productivity and quality of work are as important to the new remote workforce as they are to the people who employ them.
Between March 30 and April 1, 2020, Sykes Enterprises, Incorporated surveyed 3,000 employed adults in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. to gauge their experiences and perceptions of their employers’ preparedness to make the switch. From business-continuity tactics to the tools being utilized, our respondents’ answers highlighted unique and ongoing approaches as this novel virus continues to grow.
Approximately 50 percent of respondents were from North America, and approximately 50 percent of respondents were from Europe. Specifically, the survey, conducted through Pollfish, was sent to respondents in the following countries:
- United Kingdom: 1,493 respondents (49.77%)
- United States of America: 781 respondents (26.03%)
- Canada: 726 respondents (24.20%)
Question 1: Due to the COVID-19/Coronavirus global pandemic, has your company asked employees to work at home?
- Yes 68.73%
- No 29.13%
- Other 2.13%
- Yes 63.89%
- No 33.80%
- Other 2.30%
- Yes 67.91%
- No 30.85%
- Other 1.24%
- Yes 71.67%
- No 25/85%
- Other 2.48%
The global response to COVID-19 has been widespread and unpredictable. While many companies may have been reluctant to shift away from brick-and-mortar operations in the past, they are now being forced to accept the reality of working at home. For emphasis, our survey results showed that over 68 percent of employees have been asked to work remotely.
Broken down by country, our survey finds that Americans have been slower to transition to work at home than either the U.K. or Canada. Whereas 72 percent of U.K. citizens and 68 percent of Canadians have been asked to work remotely, only 64 percent of Americans have been asked to do so.
However, much of this may be indicative of the types of employment in each respective country. For example, the majority of our respondents in the hotel and food industry have not been asked to work at home. The sheer number of American restaurants as opposed to U.K. restaurants may be responsible, in part, for the national disparity.
For the respondents who answered that they had been asked to work at home already, questions two through six were opened only to them. For the others, their survey resumed at question seven.
Question 2: How quickly was your company able to transition your workforce to a work-at-home environment?
- Within 24 hours of the work-from-home policy being announced 42.43%
- Within one week of the work-from-home policy being announced 44.08%
- We still haven’t been able to transition employees to a work-from-home environment 13.48%
- Within 24 hours of the work-from-home policy being announced 43.89%
- Within one week of the work-from-home policy being announced 41.68%
- We still haven’t been able to transition employees to a work-from-home environment 14.43%
- Within 24 hours of the work-from-home policy being announced 43.41%
- Within one week of the work-from-home policy being announced 45.03%
- We still haven’t been able to transition employees to a work-from-home environment 11.56%
- Within 24 hours of the work-from-home policy being announced 41.31%
- Within one week of the work-from-home policy being announced 44.77%
- We still haven’t been able to transition employees to a work-from-home environment 13.93%
In a remarkable showcase of collective speed of transfer, of those who said their employer has asked employees to work at home, more than 86 percent of respondents stated that their companies were able to transfer within one week. Of those, 42 percent were able to make the switch within 24 hours of their announcements.
Here, the U.S. seemed to have the upper hand in terms of speed of transfer. Of remote-based workers who made the switch within 24 hours, nearly 44 percent were Americans, while 43 percent were Canadians and 41 percent were from the U.K. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, those working in finance, insurance and software industries were able to transition to remote offices far more quickly than those in the food service, retail or transportation industries.
Speed of transfer has been a critical factor in ensuring employee safety and in the attempt to flatten the curve. However, the seamlessness of those transitions varies.
Question 3: How seamless was the transition to move your workforce to a work-from-home environment? (on a scale of 1–5)
- Poor 1.75%
- 2 11.69%
- 3 31.47%
- 4 41.9%
- Perfect 13.19%
- Poor 2.61%
- 2 14.03%
- 3 33.07%
- 4 36.07%
- Perfect 14.23%
- Poor 1.62%
- 2 8.92%
- 3 28.19%
- 4 47.87%
- Perfect 13.39%
- Poor 1.40%
- 2 11.87%
- 3 32.24%
- 4 41.87%
- Perfect 12.62%
On a scale of 1-5 with 1 being “poor” and 5 being “perfect,” our respondents’ experiences of a seamless transition fell somewhere in the middle. Even so, over 250 respondents believed their employer’s response was perfect. While this may be due to technological advances making a work-at-home transition inherently more possible, preparedness likely plays a factor. A proliferation of tips such as a recent Forbes checklist for companies preparing to make the switch is swarming the market, providing a collective reservoir of resources to tailor the transition. Overall, most were quite satisfied with their work-at-home transitions. In the U.K., 54 percent answered at least a 4 in terms of seamlessness, as did 50 percent of Americans and an astounding 61 percent of Canadians. As more global workers switch to home-based work environments, the data is supportive of the likelihood of a seamless transition.
Clearly, COVID-19 has forced a reactive response by the business world, and companies are experimenting with tools and tech that will enable them to maintain their high standards.
Question 4: Has your company implemented any new technologies or tools to make working at home more effective/efficient?
- Yes, some 40.54%
- Yes, but not enough 23.33%
- Not yet, but it’s happening soon 10.77%
- No, and there aren’t any plans to do so 17.85%
- I’m not sure 7.52%
- Yes, some 41.28%
- Yes, but not enough 22.65%
- Not yet, but it’s happening soon 10.22%
- No, and there aren’t any plans to do so 18.44%
- I’m not sure 7.41%
- Yes, some 43.61%
- Yes, but not enough 22.72%
- Not yet, but it’s happening soon 11.16%
- No, and there aren’t any plans to do so 13.39%
- I’m not sure 9.13%
- Yes, some 38.79%
- Yes, but not enough 23.93%
- Not yet, but it’s happening soon 10.84%
- No, and there aren’t any plans to do so 19.63%
- I’m not sure 6.82%
While evolving technology is no longer the avant-garde phenomenon it once was, its possibilities are more pragmatic than ever. Companies switching to virtual offices are leaning on the tools that technology provides. Wireless connections, digital meeting rooms and personalized productivity systems offer a helping hand to employers and employees.
Our findings show that the majority of companies have implemented new tech to ensure efficiency at home. While 40 percent of respondents who were asked to work from home have been given adequate tools, there is certainly room for growth, evidenced by the 23 percent of respondents who believe they don’t have enough to be as effective as they were in the office.
Geographically, Canadians are the group most satisfied with the tools at their disposal, with over 43 percent of respondents stating their satisfaction. Following Canada was the U.S, in which 41 percent agreed, followed the U.K., where only 39 percent believe they can remain as efficient with the tools they have been given.
It’s clear that technological advancements are becoming inextricably tied to workers’ ability to work at home, but clear training and best practices will curate true virtual offices.
Question 5: Has your company provided any best practices or training to help your new work-at-home environment?
- Yes 50.87%
- No 40.40%
- I’m not sure 8.73%
- Yes 54.11%
- No 38.48%
- I’m not sure 7.41%
- Yes 51.32%
- No 37.93%
- I’m not sure 10.75%
- Yes 49.16%
- No 42.43%
- I’m not sure 8.41%
Surprisingly, only 51 percent of our respondents who were asked to work from home have received work-at-home training. While this may be due to the haste in which most companies were required to make the switch, it paints a vivid picture of how far many need to grow in order to maintain their standards of excellence.
As companies continue to connect the dots to maintain business continuity in the face of COVID-19, it appears that the United States has a slight edge as far as training is concerned. While 54 percent of Americans say they have been trained, just over 51 percent of Canadians and only 49 percent of citizens of the U.K. can say the same.
While proper training is vital to ensuring business continuity and security safeguards, businesses have the unique opportunity to show they care for their employees.
Question 6: Has your company invited or facilitated any conversations about employee wellbeing during your transition to a work-at-home environment?
- Yes 60.86%
- No 31.91%
- I’m not sure 7.23%
- Yes 62.53%
- No 30.46%
- I’m not sure 7.01%
- Yes 63.89%
- No 28.4%
- I’m not sure 7.71%
- Yes 58.69%
- No 34.21%
- I’m not sure 7.10%
While the full-impact of COVID-19 remains to be realized, most are taking safety precautions to ensure not only their own wellbeing, but that of others. In the workplace, employers seem to be doing the same. Over 60 percent of those surveyed who were asked to work from home stated that they have had conversations about their wellbeing with their employers. From emotional wellbeing to physical safety, the new Coronavirus has forced all of us to look at the larger picture.
While Canada edges out the U.S. for these conversations at 64 percent to 62.5 percent, it’s clear that the worldwide conversation about employee wellbeing continues. In the U.K., nearly 59 percent stated they have had those discussions.
Questions two through six were available only to those whose companies had asked them to work from home, posed in question one. Question seven became available to those who answered they had not been asked to work remotely.
Question 7: As of today, are you currently working at home due to the COVID-19/Coro0navirus global pandemic?
- Yes, I’m working from home, but I’ve always worked from home 5.07%
- Yes, I’m working from home, and I’ve worked from home before on occasion before now 23.07%
- Yes, I’m working from home, and I’ve never worked from home until recently 28.73%
- No, I’m not working from home, but I’ don’t mind 17.40%
- No, I’m not working from home, but I wish I could work from home 21.30%
- Other 4.43%
- Yes, I’m working from home, but I’ve always worked from home 7.43%
- Yes, I’m working from home, and I’ve worked from home before on occasion before now 18.69%
- Yes, I’m working from home, and I’ve never worked from home until recently 25.74%
- No, I’m not working from home, but I’ don’t mind 18.95%
- No, I’m not working from home, but I wish I could work from home 24.20%
- Other 4.43%
- Yes, I’m working from home, but I’ve always worked from home 5.51%
- Yes, I’m working from home, and I’ve worked from home before on occasion before now 22.87%
- Yes, I’m working from home, and I’ve never worked from home until recently 28.24%
- No, I’m not working from home, but I’ don’t mind 18.46%
- No, I’m not working from home, but I wish I could work from home 22.04%
- Other 2.89%
- Yes, I’m working from home, but I’ve always worked from home 3.62%
- Yes, I’m working from home, and I’ve worked from home before on occasion before now 25.45%
- Yes, I’m working from home, and I’ve never worked from home until recently 30.54%
- No, I’m not working from home, but I’ don’t mind 16.08%
- No, I’m not working from home, but I wish I could work from home 19.42%
- Other 4.89%
A striking portrait of the impact of COVID-19 on workers around the globe, nearly 29 percent of respondents have begun working at home due to the Coronavirus, a challenge they have never had to face before. While a significant number — 23 percent of respondents — have worked remotely on occasion, most are entering uncharted territory.
This is particularly relevant to U.K. workers, where over 30 percent have never had to work from home. In North America, 28 percent of Canadians and 26 percent of Americans are faced with the unknown challenges ahead.
Equally striking, over 25 percent of respondents stated either that they are not working from home but wish they could, or “other” statements, such as multiple “job cancelled,” “furloughed” or “laid off” responses.
For the 1,706 respondents who stated they are currently working from home, question eight was posed to them. For those who stated “no,” their poll resumed at question nine.
Question 8: do you feel mor or less productive since working at home?
- More productive 25.91%
- Less productive 39.51%
- About the same 34.58%
- More productive 26.17%
- Less productive 40.25%
- About the same 33.58%
- More productive 22.63%
- Less productive 38.69%
- About the same 38.69%
- More productive 27.30%
- Less productive 39.55%
- About the same 33.15%
While a discouraging 39 percent of our respondents stated they are less productive than they were in the office, an encouraging 61 percent said they are as or more productive than before. A recent Business News Daily article asserts that remote employees work 1.4 more days per month, and that “working from home not only benefits employees by eliminating their daily commutes, it also increases productivity and leads to healthier lifestyles.”
Geographically, the answers to this survey question vary little between regions. Roughly 39 percent of Canadians, 40 percent of Americans and 40 percent of U.K citizens believe they are less productive than before; however, that number might drastically decrease as employees acclimate to the new normal.
While question eight was designated only to those who were currently working at home, question nine was designated to those who were not.
Question 9: Do you feel like you could perform your job just as effectively working at home?
- Yes 18.60%
- No 81.40%
- Yes 21.36%
- No 78.64%
- Yes 20.75%
- No 79.25%
- Yes 15.66%
- No 84.34%
An overwhelming 81 percent of non-remote employees believe their jobs could not be performed as effectively as in the office. However, this is likely due to industry-specific capabilities for those specific workers. While less than 70 percent of non-remote employees in the finance, insurance and software sectors believe their efficiency would diminish, well over 80 percent in the hotel, food, retail, transportation and warehouse industries believe they would be less efficient.
Regionally, it appears that U.K. workers are less optimistic about their efficiency if forced into a work-at-home environment than North American workers. Across the pond, 84 percent believe they would be less efficient, whereas the number is slightly lower for the U.S. and Canada, at an even 79 percent.
Conclusion (based on survey questions 1-20)
The entire world is reeling from the fallout of COVID-19. Seemingly every day is jam-packed with new developments and challenges. Companies, employees, clients and customers are directly and indirectly dealing with the pandemic’s widespread and unprecedented impacts. While many companies were well-prepared with a response, many more had to react quickly while others are still finding their footing.
SYKES’ poll of 3,000 employed adults in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. highlighted the perceptions of companies’ work-at-home responses, individual experiences and future hopes. Not only does our survey indicate where we are, how far we have come and how far we have yet to go, it also presents a golden opportunity for companies to establish the best tools, plans and practices to handle COVID-19, as well as the unknowns ahead.
Click here to access Sykes’ full report.
Additional parameters that Sykes studied:
- Question 10: What is your attitude around working at home since the COVID-19/coronavirus global pandemic?
- Question 11: Do your specific job duties rely on cloud computing services or business apps (e.g., Google Drive, Slack, Trello, Wrike)?
- Question 12: Have you had any work meetings this past month using a video tool (e.g., Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Webex, GoToMeeting) from home?
- Question 13: Has your company established a business continuity emergency response team due to the COVID-19/Coronavirus global pandemic?
- Question 14: Did your company have some form of business continuity plan established before the COVID-19/Coronavirus global pandemic?
- Question 15: Did your company have to purchase additional equipment or software (e.g., laptops, VPN licenses, etc.) in order to transition employees to a work-at-home environment?
- Question 16: Are you satisfied with how quickly your company sent out COVID-19/Coronavirus-related email communications to employees?
- Question 17: Has your company sent out COVID-19/Coronavirus-related statements via email to customers or clients the past month?
- Question 18: Has your company shared any public COVID-19/Coronavirus-related statements via social media the last month?
- Question 19: Has your company closed its doors to visitors?
- Question 20: Has your company had to lay off any employees due to the COVID-19/Coronavirus global pandemic?
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