Survey: demand for teleworking remains high, but managers’ concerns are growing

COVID-19 vaccinations have not reduced enthusiasm for pandemic-induced telecommuting among employees in major Atlanta business centers. And they’re increasingly worried about returning to the stress of commuting when many of their bosses want them to come back to the office.

These were among the themes of the final installment of remote work surveys conducted by Georgia Commute Options, a state-sponsored alternative commuting program, and its partner organizations in the Perimeter Center and Atlantic Station, Buckhead and Downtown areas. .

GCO began surveys of partner employers amid the April and May 2020 pandemic shutdowns, garnering more than 2,900 responses. Various surveys and follow-up interviews have followed every two to four months and will continue until the fall. (Although the number and identity of participants vary at each stage, all results are statistically valid, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission, which manages GCO.)

the last survey was conducted in April, providing the first annual figures and the first since vaccinations became available to all adults in Georgia on March 25.

Workers vs managers

As the pandemic abates, a hint of emerging tension between managers and workers can be seen in opposing trends for telecommuting appetites. The majority of respondents were still telecommuting in April, wanted to continue working that way for most of the week, and cited the benefits – including better productivity – which have only increased since the start of the week. pandemic.

But managers have indicated that they telecommute fewer days on average, want to do it even less in the future, and are increasingly concerned about worker productivity.

Some of the benefits of telecommuting reported by respondents to the Georgia Commute Options surveys over the pandemic-induced work-from-home period. Saving money, reducing stress and increasing productivity are just some of the claims.

Before the pandemic, 44% of respondents never worked from home and only 3% did so for the entire work week. In May 2020, 71% of respondents worked remotely all week and only 9% never worked from home. As of April 2021, 66% were still working remotely five or more days a week. The average number of days worked from home per week among respondents remained around 4.

And the more people worked from home, the more they wanted to do it. A year ago, when respondents were freshly forced to “shelter in place”, only 17% wanted to continue working remotely all week. In October, that number had risen to 35%, and 25% wanted to telecommute 1 to 2 days a week, percentages that have remained fairly stable. The average number of days per week that respondents want to continue working from home has dropped from 2.5 a year ago to 3.1 today, a number that is also stable.

It’s easy to see why in the self-reported lifestyle the benefits of telecommuting, most of which have increased over the past year. Saving money by not commuting was reported by 76% of respondents (vs. 73%) and less stress by 64% (vs. 54%). Many respondents feel their work has improved as well: 49% say they are more productive (vs. 39%) and 46% say they focus better on work (vs. 35%). Negative impacts were mostly ranked lower than positive, with difficulty disconnecting from work (33%) and distractions from children or pets (21%) being the most important.

Managers and executives as a group have a different experience. Their average days of remote work per week were lower: 3.6 and 3.4 against 4.1 for non-managers. And the amount they want to keep doing is lower, on average within 3 days a week. Managers also reported more difficulty disconnecting from work, in 47% of respondents.

Managers have several growing concerns regarding the productivity of telecommuting employees, according to the GCO survey.

While many workers self-report higher productivity, many managers are not so sure. Managers’ concerns about working remotely increased in most categories year over year, such as declining staff morale (31%, vs. 20%), problems completing work on time (19%, vs. 9%) and inadequate communication (29%, vs. 25%). The percentage of executives who had no worries about working remotely rose from 31% to 18%. In April 2021, 42% said a new or updated policy on teleworking or flexible working was a priority for them

Another sign that returning to the office will lead to stress is a significant and growing concern about inconveniences such as increased stress (a concern of 61% of respondents in April 2021) and increased spending (47%).

One data point indicates that if employees return to the office, public transit may be a less likely alternative, as many employers have cut pass subsidy programs. The GCO report cautions that these results are from a small sample size, which means they may not be statistically significant. However, this could be another sign of a ridership struggle for transit services, as the pandemic has already caused changes in reverse as state-backed van use exceeds that of the United States. Xpress commuter bus service.

Demographic differences

The pandemic has not affected everyone the same, and telecommuting is no exception. The survey shows some differences by age, race, sex and household income.

Millennials reported more “personal challenges” in coping with telecommuting than older Generation X workers and Baby Boomers. Millennials have far passed these groups by saying they have problems with motivation, productivity, distraction, loneliness, and morale. Difficulty staying motivated was reported by 37% of Millennials, compared to 18% of Gen Xers and 14% of Baby Boomers. A decline in productivity was reported by 20% of Millennials, compared to 8% of Gen Xers and 5% of Baby Boomers.

Not surprisingly, parents reported suffering more distractions from their work, but there was a significant gender gap. Female parents reported spending an average of 13.7 hours per week helping their children, compared to 8.3 hours for men. And there was also a racial difference: for black women, that average was 17.7 hours compared to 10.9 hours for white women.

In another racial difference, black or African American workers were more likely to say that working from home increased their opportunities for career advancement: 32% said it had a “very” or “somewhat” positive impact, comparatively. at 20% for the others. Black respondents and all other respondents were similar in reporting negative impacts on advancement of about 13% to 14%.

The flexibility of the work-from-home lifestyle was also not appreciated in the same way. For respondents from households earning less than $ 40,000 per year, only 8% said they could work when it was convenient for them, compared to 26% for middle-income households and 29% for households earning $ 100,000. per year or more.

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