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Survey: 6 in 10 Americans Don’t Want to Work from Home All the Time

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Key Takeaways:

  • 73% of Americans are content working from home, but 59% wouldn’t do it full-time if given the choice
  • Missing coworkers, distractions and lack of separation from work among top challenges of working from home
  • Not having a commute is the biggest benefit of working from home
  • More sanitizing, more personal space and better ventilation among the top changes workers want to see upon returning

Much of the country was under shelter-in-place orders — for the most part, at least — and many have been working from home for the first time. For some, it’s something they’ve wanted to explore for years — although I’m sure we all wish it were under better circumstances. Others, however, weren’t too sure about how working from home was going to affect their performance at work and their life at home.

So, to find out the pros and cons of working from home, and how people who are trying it for the first time are managing, we conducted a workplace survey of more than 2,600 individuals between May 4 and May 11. As the pandemic continues to keep us in our houses, what we found is that the outlook of those working from home across the country has been somewhat mixed.

73% of respondents started working from home recently, and almost half of them were excited to try it. However, about the same amount were unsure about whether they would like it, and how effective they would be. Noisy kids, blurred work/life boundaries and iffy internet connections have some people missing the office and rethinking whether working from home regularly is right for them. 8% were not too thrilled at all about having to work virtually for the first time.

While 73% of respondents said that they were at least satisfied with how things were going — if not outright loving it — only 41% of respondents could picture themselves working from home full-time. 37% said they would only be content working from home if it were part-time or less, and 15% have removed it from consideration altogether.

But, inevitably, there are things that are out of our control, even within our own homes.

We’re More Distracted & We Miss Each Other

Location isn’t the only change when working outside of the office. For instance, many people have a different mindset when they enter the office than when they’re relaxing at home. Indeed, one-quarter of respondents feel that the lack of a clear boundary between work and home is hindering their performance at work, which then bleeds into family time.

But, home isn’t just a place to relax, and many of us sometimes feel that we work harder keeping the household running smoothly than we do at our actual jobs. 23% of our respondents are finding that kids, pets and normal chores can be incredibly distracting. Kids need entertainment, and education, cats like warm laptops and that pile of laundry keeps staring at us. As we’ve seen in numerous — and often hilarious — news interviews, distractions can arise from seemingly anywhere and make it nearly impossible to stay focused for any length of time.

But the lack of social interactions with coworkers and clients was the biggest challenge respondents are facing — 28%, in fact. To be sure, it can definitely be quite depressing to be all alone in your house or apartment, whereas social interactions at the office can be energizing — and even inspiring. Alternatively, there are no random hallway chats or kitchen conversations at home. And, although tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom are amazing products, we’re still communicating less than we would be if we were actually in the office. Grabbing lunch at the cafe around the corner or a happy hour after work are also part of the office experience for a lot of people and they help build and maintain the culture of company — and the pile of laundry isn’t there to stare at you.

More Time & Control Over Schedule Among Top Pros

Overwhelmingly, more than half of respondents are enjoying not having a commute. Ultimately, working from home is like having a time machine, in that we gain more hours in a day — hours that can be spent with family, pets or a good book. Although, it should be noted that many used this time to catch up on the days news, listen to podcasts or read — on the train, of course.

Meanwhile, 29% of respondents are finding that working in their homes is generally more comfortable than in the office, and their schedules are more flexible too. Without a doubt, being in control of your schedule and environment puts your mind at ease when it comes time to focus. 23% are also enjoying the extra family time.

Some ironic corollaries have come out of this survey though. For example, the biggest benefit of working from home was the time saved by not commuting, but one of the biggest drawbacks was the increasingly blurry line between work and home life. This implies that the time saved by not commuting might not be being used as effectively as we might have expected. Additionally, while respondents reported that a major benefit of working from home was comfort, nearly one-quarter also reported having real problems with distractions. A more comfortable chair is one thing, but constant interruptions are another.

Changing the Office for Safety & Comfort

We’re likely to see a new normal upon returning to the office. Some may not go back at all. For most though, returning to the office won’t look or feel like it used to. Interestingly, most wanted to see the same changes in their offices upon returning, regardless of whether they were returning full-time or just part-time.

In the short-term, respondents are looking for more attention to cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and mandatory personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks. Many also feel that technology that encourages social distancing would be desirable as well.

Overwhelmingly, people want to see better ventilation and air quality in their office environments. A minority also wanted to see larger common areas like kitchens and meeting rooms.

Ironically, more than half of respondents wanted more personal space in the office going forward. While the aesthetic of the open concept is still visually appealing, social distancing measures may lead to more private spaces for employees.

End of the Work-from-Home Honeymoon

We could be looking at the end of the honeymoon phase of this mass working from home experiment. As routines set in, positives and negatives tend to reveal themselves and become more stark. Humans have always been social beings after all, and loneliness is a real problem.

Remote work may have felt like a nice change of pace, but some are finding that being away from coworkers is making their work more difficult and tedious. Ideation is much more fluid with face-to-face interaction, and not having a clear boundary between work and home life can accelerate burnout — there’s no off switch.

“They miss the social interaction, they miss the ability to get things done, they miss the separation between work and home,” says Dr. Yvette Blount, an Associate Professor at the Macquarie Business School and member of the Centre for Workforce Futures to the Financial Review. “If we’re too remote, what will happen is people will start being in their little silos and then you’re not working as a team and it starts to get very disconnected.”

The simple fact is that working from home wasn’t an option, and it was coupled with shelter-in-place directives which also brought a level of anxiety into the mix that wouldn’t be present if this were more voluntary. Working at home and then not being able to go outside or otherwise get away compounds the negative emotions associated with isolation.

Either way, this survey may have yielded different results had it been conducted before the shelter-in-place orders were instated. The pandemic has shed light on safety concerns that we either weren’t aware of or perceived as a much smaller risk.

Methodology:

The survey ran on RentCafe from 5/4/2020 to 5/11/2020.

A total of 2,681 U.S. respondents completed the entire survey, with 1,951 recently starting to work from home.

Respondents could choose multiple responses regarding the biggest benefits, challenges, and both short- and long-term office changes. All other questions were single choice.

Due to fractional points, some percentages do not add up to exactly 100%.

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