Despite More Work, Less Socializing, Workers Happy Working Remotely

New study of the COVID-19 American Workforce reveals that employees like working remotely; employers cite greater workforce productivity, increasing diversity still a concern.

A recent examination of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the workforce found that 80% of U.S. workers are very or somewhat satisfied with remote work, despite higher workloads and a lack of social interactions with colleagues. The Milken Institute and Infosys report “Future of Work: Insights for 2021 and Beyond” highlights insights about remote work based on surveys of employees and managers of large U.S.-based companies, and offers recommendations for employers and employees moving forward.

working remotely
(Credit: Getty Images/nensuria)

Eighty-two percent of managers said their employees are working more than they were before the pandemic, with over half saying employees were working “a lot” more.

However, access to remote work options remains inequitable across income brackets with lower-income employees seeing fewer remote job roles. Specifically, 69% of those with an income below $50k/year said they saw increased remote working opportunity, compared to 86% of those making over $75k/year.

The report finds that the shift to remote work has allowed employers to hire talent beyond where they physically operate. Some firms have used this opportunity to double down on diversity and inclusion. The report further explores differing sentiments among demographic groups toward remote work, including a breakdown by gender.

The report found:

  • 93% of women said they were satisfied with remote work, compared to 88% of men.
  • There is an increased focus on skills training, and more than half of respondents cited training in some form as a benefit of remote work. Most respondents (including employees themselves) believed that employees should look for their own training opportunities, regardless of income level.
  • Companies responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in a number of ways, from cutting jobs to reducing salaries.
  • Some industries increased their efforts towards diversity hiring.
  • Employers reported a high level of trust in their employees to be productive. Directors, senior management and C-suites all said they trust that employees are working efficiently, but acknowledged they have higher expectations and expect more frequent check-ins from those they manage.
  • Most employees saw increased job opportunities from remote hiring, and employers were more willing to hire workers from elsewhere.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has changed employment forecasts for different sectors. Although utility companies experienced the smallest decline in employment during COVID-19, it is projected to have the largest decline of any sector over the next decade. By contrast, while leisure and hospitality have been hardest hit, the industry nonetheless expects strong employment growth.

“While the full impact of the pandemic remains unknown, it’s clear that the shift towards digitalization has altered the shape, focus, and geographical dispersion of the American workforce,” said Michael Klowden, CEO, Milken Institute. “This research provides insights into how Americans view these changes. We hope to provide companies with a deeper understanding of the pandemic’s impact on employee sentiment to manage their workforces through stronger and more equitable approaches.”

“The pandemic has accelerated trends we had already been seeing and provided a rare opportunity to clearly envision the future of work in a way that benefits the largest number of people,” said Ravi Kumar, President, Infosys. “As training and reskilling become increasingly important, companies that provide their employees with the greatest advancement opportunities will continue to have a competitive edge. They will also be able to meet the diversity, equity, and inclusivity challenges the world is facing with greater impact.”

The study concludes that the future of the workplace—whether in-office, remote, or hybrid—is already heralding significant changes in the relationships between employers and employees. Employees are particularly focused on adapting to the increased use of technology, adjusting their work-life balance, and developing trust and camaraderie in a remote setting. Drawing upon the survey’s results, the report outlines recommendations that address both the rise of inequality and disruption stemming from the pandemic. These include strengthening the relationships between businesses and educational institutions, providing employees with financial support for their training, and the need for agility in business as employers navigate the future of work and iterate on the best solutions to the unique issues it raises.

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