As the world moves closer to the end of the pandemic, thoughts are shifting toward reopening. However, reopening doesn’t necessarily mean “as it was before.” Though suddenly thrown into remote work over a year ago, many workers have discovered the benefits of working at home and don’t want it to end.
To better understand people’s work experiences over the last year, FlexJobs surveyed more than 2,100 people who worked remotely during the pandemic about a number of key topics. And one thing is clear—remote work has left an impression.
Fifty-eight percent of workers said they would “absolutely” look for a new job if they cannot continue remote work in their current role! An additional 31% said they aren’t sure what they would do, and only 11% said that working remotely is not a big deal.
The majority of respondents (65%) said they want to remain full-time remote workers after the pandemic. Another 33% prefer a hybrid work arrangement, while only 2% say they want to return to the office full-time.
COVID-19 remains a top concern of returning to the office, with 49% saying they are worried about exposure and infection. An additional 46% and 43%, respectively, are concerned that returning to the office means less flexibility and less work-life balance.
Other concerns about returning to the office include:
Change in daily routine: 27%
Being away from family or pets: 26%
Office politics and distractions: 34%
Childcare or caregiver responsibilities: 15%
Lack of health and safety measures (i.e., wearing a mask, social distancing): 32%
Being required to adhere to health and safety measures: 21%
Thoughts on Remote Work
The survey also explored what respondents like and dislike about remote work. While the survey covered a variety of areas, here are some of the key aspects workers commented on.
When asked, respondents ranked “cost savings” as the number two benefit of remote work (75%), with “not having a commute” ranking number one (84%).
Thirty-eight percent estimate that they are saving at least $5,000 a year working remotely, while one out of five estimates that they save more than $200 per week, or $10,000 a year.
While 24% of remote workers have an “actual” home office, 34% have created a dedicated home office space. With the sudden shift to remote work last year, some newly remote workers had to get creative with their in-home office.
Some people converted closets or garages, while others figured out how to make the dining room table work. In the end, nine out of 10 workers spent money on their office in 2020, with 42% spending between $100 and $500, and 12% spending more than $1,000.
Remote work also impacts where people live. If they were able to secure a permanent remote job, 37% of respondents said they would “definitely” consider relocating, and an additional 31% said they “might consider it.” The reasons to relocate include:
Better quality of life: 58%
Lower cost of living or less expensive housing: 47%
Different or better climate: 38%
A change of scenery: 35%
Closer to friends and family: 26%
Access to better schools: 14%
Working at home doesn’t mean you’re working alone. You’re still part of a team and report to a supervisor. The dynamics of being managed remotely, though, are different than being managed in person.
Though 14% of respondents said they find it harder to manage the relationship with their boss, a majority felt that they didn’t need to hear from their boss daily. Thirty-one percent of workers said they only need contact a few times a week, 27% report that once a week is sufficient, and 22% wish their boss would check in with them “as little as possible.”
Only 15% of workers need contact with their boss daily or twice a day, while 3% like speaking with their boss multiple times throughout the day.
Productivity and Collaboration
One of the reasons some employers have avoided remote work is concerns around worker productivity and their ability to collaborate with team members. The pandemic, however, has been an opportunity to study worker productivity in real-time and under extraordinary circumstances.
A majority of workers (55%) said that their productivity has increased while working remotely, and about one-third (33%) said their productivity has remained the same. Only 6% of workers think their productivity has decreased, while 6% aren’t sure.
Overall, the ability to collaborate remotely remained about the same while people worked at home. Approximately one-third of workers (34%) said their ability to collaborate virtually remained about the same as it did collaborating in-person, while 29% feel that “some” things can be more difficult.
A similar number of workers felt that their ability to collaborate virtually improved a little or a lot (16% and 14%, respectively), while 5% said virtual collaboration is more difficult than in-person collaboration. Another 4% said they weren’t sure if their ability to collaborate has suffered while working remotely.
Our survey found that most workers have neutral opinions on video meetings (33%). However, more people like than dislike them. Approximately half of all respondents either like them somewhat (25%) or a lot (25%), while only 11% “dislike them somewhat.”
A smaller group “dislike them a lot” (3%) while only 3% haven’t used any kind of video meeting at all.
When asked what the biggest challenges of video meetings are, respondents had a variety of pain points:
Technical or software issues (frozen screens, poor internet connection, problems joining): 58%
Late start times: 13%
Screen sharing: 11%
Collaborating or interacting: 12%
Too many meetings or video fatigue: 28%
Ineffective or not productive: 11%
More difficult to read non-verbal cues: 28%
Harder to “raise hand” or politely interrupt: 19%
Awkward to make small talk: 22%
Background distractions: 26%
Despite the difficulties with video meetings, respondents also report many positive aspects of virtual meetings:
Not having to travel to the meeting: 75%
More efficient: 42%
More productive: 27%
Ability to share screens: 47%
Seeing colleagues and clients in a more natural setting: 29%
Fewer office politics: 42%
Ability to mute: 55%
Breakout rooms: 12%
Wearing comfortable clothing: 58%
More flexible scheduling: 51%
Can accommodate more people per meeting: 30%
Ability to record meetings: 40%
Makes scheduling easier: 35%
More engaging: 12%
Biggest Challenges of Remote Work
Like any job, remote work is not without its challenges. When asked about the biggest challenges they faced, respondents cited overworking or an inability to unplug (35%), dealing with non-work distractions (28%), dealing with technology problems (28%), and reliable WiFi (26%).
Other challenges include:
Real-time communication (prefer not to communicate asynchronously): 19%
Difficult to collaborate and interact: 15%
Video meeting fatigue: 24%
Too many video meetings: 18%
Harder to manage work relationships: 17%
Professional Development and Career Advancement
One of the concerns remote workers often express is that their career path may be hindered by not being physically present in the office. Of course, the pivot to remote work during the pandemic was an unusual circumstance, and most respondents are not concerned that remote work has impacted their professional future adversely.
When asked if they felt their professional skills had suffered, a majority, 76%, said that remote work had not impacted their skills. However, 14% said they felt their skills had been impacted to some extent, while 5% said they had “definitely” been impacted. Another 5% weren’t sure.
That said, nine out of 10 workers pursued some type of professional or skill development during the pandemic. Just over half (51%) took an online professional development course, and 47% learned new remote working tools. Another 44% reported learning “new professional skills.”
Other types of professional development workers pursued are:
Studied for or earned a new degree: 7%
Studied for or earned a new certification: 28%
Attended virtual professional development events: 41%
Engaged in volunteer work, internships, projects, or side jobs: 22%
Remote workers are also often concerned that working remotely could negatively impact their chance at a promotion. The survey, however, found that a majority, 70% felt that working at home during the pandemic had not impacted their chances. Approximately 15% felt that the pandemic had either helped (10%) or “greatly helped” (5%) their chances of getting a promotion. And a nearly equal percent felt that working at home had either hurt (10%) or “greatly hurt” (4%) their chances.
The mental health of many has no doubt taken a hit during the pandemic. More than half (56%) said they experienced burnout during the pandemic, and 39% said their mental health is worse today than it was in January 2020.
The demographic breakdown of the 2,181 total respondents is:
Live in the U.S.: 72%
Live in Canada: 4%
Live Outside the U.S. and Canada: 24%
Prefer not to identify: 1%
Under age 24: 4%
Between ages 25 and 40: 30%
Between ages 41 and 56: 43%
Age 57 or older: 23%
High school degree or equivalent: 4%
Some college but no degree: 12%
Associate’s or bachelor’s degree: 49%
Graduate degree: 35%
Income less than $25,000: 23%
Income between $25,000 and $49,999: 23%
Income between $50,000 and $74,999: 20%
Income between $75,000 and $99,999: 11%
Income over $100,000: 10%
Prefer not to disclose income: 13%
Have children 18 or younger living with them: 32%
Remote Work Works
As the survey results show, a majority of employees enjoy working at home and will continue to seek out opportunities that allow them to maintain the remote work benefits they’ve come to rely on.