What Employees Miss
In the early months of 2020, the sudden reality of working from home for millions of Americans may have felt like another temporary shift in accommodating the global health pandemic of COVID-19. With at least half of employed Americans working remotely in May 2020, many for the first time, it may have seemed unlikely that telecommuting would become such a permanent fixture in our professional lives.
But that seems to be exactly what’s happening. There’s no real end in sight for many Americans to return to their busy offices or packed high-rise buildings, and this may not change in 2021, either. Instead, the new normal has simply become business as usual, and while many companies may be focused on learning how to optimize productivity or manage the stress on their team’s work-life balance, some aspects of work may never be the same again.
There are plenty of perks to working from home, but we wanted to know what employees were missing the most about their professional life before the pandemic. To find out, we surveyed over 700 full-time Americans previously working in offices who were now operating remotely and almost 300 employees who’d continued working in their office on-site. Read on as we explore how many people miss working from their offices, how working remotely is impacting their emotional well-being, and the ideal preference on when (and how) to go back to working in person.
Even before the pandemic, it was clear to most that working from home has its challenges. Coupled with all of the other changes Americans have made in their life as a result of COVID-19, including a house full of people who may also be working or learning remotely, and those challenges may have only compounded.
To be clear, there are plenty of perks to being allowed to work from home. Employees we polled categorically identified their daily commutes and workplace gossip as elements of office life they (mostly) weren’t yearning for. On the other hand, 45% of employees admitted they missed going to the office in general, a sentiment that was more common among millennials than older generations.
Overwhelmingly, 94% of respondents reported missing at least one aspect of working in an office before the pandemic. Elements of their former work life employees missed the most? Social connections (45%), human contact (44%), a clear separation of their work and homes (42%), and face-to-face meetings (41%) topped the list. A dramatic increase in email communications or Zoom meetings isn’t a comparable replacement for interacting with people in real life and can be one of the aspects that make telecommuting the hardest to manage for some people. More than 1 in 5 employees also acknowledged missing something from their office life they weren’t expecting to.
Despite the challenges that working from home can present, 19% of full-time employees working remotely said it was much better than expected, and another 39% said it was generally better. Just 11% of employees indicated working from home was worse than they imagined it might be.
Still, the preference to work from home versus working from the office might depend on who else is occupying your home. Thirty-seven percent of employees reported a preference for working from home, while 30% would rather work in the office. As we found, parents were more than twice as likely as nonparents to prefer working in an office, and women were more likely than men to prefer working from home in general. Roughly 1 in 3 employees polled acknowledged their ideal situation included a split schedule, spending some time at home and some time in office.
When asked about the benefits of one working environment over the other, 58% of employees indicated working from home was better for their mood, followed by 41% who said it was better for their job satisfaction. In contrast, 51% of people believed working in the office was better for their career growth, in addition to their ability to focus (48%), to perform their individual tasks (40%), and be productive overall (41%). Just 16% of respondents indicated working from home was better for their career growth, though 33% found working in either capacity to be equal.
By many reports, employees have showcased increased levels of productivity while working from home, even if there are emotional sacrifices coupled with remote work environments. From their own perspective, 42% of respondents indicated feeling more productive when working from home compared to life in the office, though 34% reported feeling equally productive. One in 4 employees felt less productive working from home versus on-site in the office.
While 64% believed they can work from home for the foreseeable future, 48% said collaborating with others is easier in the office. Communicating with their peers (41%), seeking feedback from others, building relationships (31% each), and learning from colleagues (26%) were also noted as simpler to accomplish at the workplace.
When asked about some of the downsides of working remotely, remote employees admitted the experience can sometimes feel lonely (65%), is different than they expected (51%), and feels too quiet compared to life in the office (48%).
In 2020, there may be no perfect work environment. Instead, millions of Americans are making the most out of a complicated situation, many of who are also learning how to work from home for the first time. While many miss their social interactions and human contact, a majority prefer working from home and could see themselves doing it for the long term.
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We surveyed 1,001 full-time employees using the Amazon MTurk platform. 719 respondents previously worked in an office before switching to working from home, and 282 respondents were working on-site in an office. 448 respondents were female, 552 respondents were male, and one respondent didn’t identify as male or female.
To help ensure accurate data, respondents were required to identify and correctly answer an attention-check question. In some cases, questions and responses were rephrased for brevity or clarity. These data rely on self-reporting. Self-reported data can be subject to issues such as exaggeration and recency bias.
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