Should we ditch the office? Survey results
Over 1,000 employees from businesses of all shapes and sizes completed our survey, telling us about their previous working habits, their recent experience of working from home, and how they want to work in the future. This is what we found out.
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The majority of our respondents typically work for SMEs (250 employees or less) with an office in London, and are currently living with a partner/spouse. 86% have been required to work from home more than usual due to coronavirus, with a roughly even split across gender and managerial roles, and most people falling between 26 and 40 years old. 65% of respondents were not C-level or founders, giving us a deep insight into employee-specific preferences.
How big is your company (including any furloughed employees)?
Where is your office?
What is your role in the company?
Do you manage at least one other person?
Which type of role do you work in?
How old are you?
What's your gender?
Have you been required to work from home more than usual due to coronavirus?
Who are you currently living with?
How people worked before the pandemic
Before coronavirus, WFH was by no means non-existent—but most people did so rarely, or only 1-2 times a week. Only 5% worked from home every day, as we have been recently, and 10% said they never worked from home.
Working from somewhere that wasn’t home or the office, on the other hand, was much rarer. Two-thirds of people rarely or never did so, and only 24% worked in a location other than home or the office more than once a month.
The most common place to do so was a cafe (44% of respondents), but a significant number (35%) said that they worked whilst commuting. As well as the locations we specified in the survey, several respondents also identified clients’ offices, family/friends’ homes, and libraries as common working locations.
When respondents did go to the office, the highest proportion of respondents (45%) travelled between 30 and 60 minutes. 20% travelled over an hour each way, and 4% over 2 hours.
Two-thirds of respondents stated that everyone in their team had an assigned desk—and 20% said that most people did. Only in 13% of responses did the majority of employees not have an assigned desk.
Did you ever work remotely (from home or elsewhere) before the coronavirus outbreak?
Did you work in any of the following locations in the 6 months before the coronavirus outbreak?
Did everybody in your office have an assigned desk?
When you did travel into the office, how long did it take?
Experience of working from home (WFH) during the pandemic
On the whole, most people (70%) have had a positive experience of working from home, and only 7% stated that they’d had a negative experience.
This seems to have been unprecedented, as 61% of respondents said their views on WFH changed during this period, with a staggering 92% of that change being for the better.
The main reasons behind enjoyment of WFH have been the lack of commute, financial savings, and spending more time with family and loved ones.
28% also named the improvement in focus/productivity as one of the top 3 things about working from home. Indeed, 76% of respondents said that they feel as productive, if not more so, at home.
Many respondents also highlighted the flexibility that WFH gives them as being a notable advantage.
On the whole, how have you found working from home?
How have your views on working from home changed since the pandemic?
What have you liked most about working from home? (Select up to 3)
Do you feel more productive at home or in the office?
On the flipside, there have been less enjoyable elements of working from home—notably the lack of social interaction, identified by a significant 75% of respondents.
The lack of a physical workplace is also taking its toll on the work-life balance of 34% of respondents, whilst 24% also find home rife with distractions.
Results for the other issues, ranging from internet issues to health impact, are also telling. Whilst they don’t rank top, they still highlight key areas of focus for those wishing to continue some form of remote working policy into the future.
There was a perfect split between those who have and haven’t experienced frustration working in a remote team. Those who have cited the lack of socialising, miscommunications, and a dislike for looking at a screen all day amongst the biggest challenges.
People aside, there are other things that people have been missing about their physical office environments—meeting rooms being the most common. This is closely followed by the local restaurants and bars, supporting the idea that office location is a key pull factor for employees.
Despite the number of people who have noted an increased productivity at home, 26% of employees also miss having places to do quiet, focused work.
All in all, most employees felt that their companies were reasonably or very equipped to continue remote working into the future.
What have you disliked most about working from home? (Select up to 3)
Have you experienced any frustration working with a remote team?
If yes, why?
People aside, which of the following things do you miss about the office experience?
On a scale of 1-5, how equipped do you feel your company is to continue remote working permanently?
How people would like to work in the future
People are keen to work remotely significantly more in the future than they did in the past. In fact, a huge 86% want to work somewhere other than the office at least once a week—though only 15% want to do so every day. When not in the office, most people would like to work from home (79%), a coworking space (that is not their main office) (42%), abroad (42%), or from a cafe (31%).
It’s important to note that 35% of respondents would want the freedom to work in different locations on different days, thus splitting their time between a few of these different places. 34% would want to work in the same place most days, and 28% in the same place most days unless they needed specific facilities/surroundings.
On that note, 25% of people would want to use a coworking space 1-2 times a week if their company paid for it, and 25% would like to use one occasionally. 84% would like the ability to use a meeting room that’s not in their main office building with varying degrees of regularity, but most on an ad-hoc basis, as and when they needed it.
Of the benefits that would most improve WFH for employees, an ergonomic chair was by far the most popular item, with 55% of respondents selecting this option. This was followed by a dual monitor, faster wifi, and a standing desk—showing that having an efficient and healthy office setup at home is particularly important for employees.
If your company allowed it, how often would you want to work remotely in the future, compared to before?
If you were to work somewhere that was not your company’s office building, where would you like to work?
When working remotely, would you want to work in the same place most days or would you like the freedom to choose different places for different days/purposes?
If your company paid the cost, how often would you want to use a coworking space or meeting room that is not in your main office building?
If provided by your company, which of the following would significantly improve your working from home experience? (Select up to 3)
Is there anything else that you feel would significantly improve your working from home experience?
When in the office
Interestingly, despite a generally positive WFH experience, 71% of respondents still want their company to have an office of some sort. Given the previous findings, it’s unsurprising that the main reasons for this centre around people factors: team culture, collaboration, meetings, and team socials—but 40% still view the office as a key place for regular desk work.
With many businesses thinking of decreasing their office footprint, some may be considering implementing a hot-desking policy. But it’s worth checking with your team before doing so; 66% said they would be happy to hot desk, but notable concerns included hygiene reasons (42%), having a preferred routine (40%), or equipment that is difficult or a pain to move (38%).
Another option available to companies is office timesharing—where usage of one office is rotated between a number of companies. This was less popular among respondents, with a higher proportion saying that they would not be happy to share an office with another company (26%) or that they didn’t know (11%).
The main concerns would be both companies needing the space at the same time (54%), confidentiality (51%), cleanliness (50%), and security of personal belongings (49%).
Would you want your business to still have an office of some sort?
What would you want the office for?
If/when working in your company’s office, would you be happy to hot desk?
What, if any, would be your concerns about hot desking?
Would you be happy to share an office with another company—where your team has it on some days, and the other company has it on others?
What, if any, would be your concerns around sharing an office with another company?
How people feel about working in remote teams
Given the importance of team interaction, it’s unsurprising that most respondents said that they are keen to meet up with their direct team in person on some kind of regular basis. 84% of respondents would like to do so at least once a month, and 55% at least once a week.
Many people would want their whole company to get together 1-2 times a month (41%), though many pointed out that this is not always feasible for geographically-distributed or larger companies. Other suggestions were quarterly or bi-annual meetups.
The current working from home setup is unique, as everybody is remote at the same time—but the results indicate that most respondents would still feel comfortable working remotely whilst others were in the office, and vice versa. 78% would feel just as comfortable in both settings, but 14% would feel more comfortable when they were in the office with others elsewhere, and 8% would feel more comfortable when working remotely and others were in the office.
When respondents were asked if they had any final comments about how they would like to work in the future, some interesting themes emerged. A preference for flexibility was incredibly common—in everything from working hours to location. Some noted that they would like to live in a different place if they were able to continue working remotely, either outside of the city or abroad—citing the improved quality of life this would bring.
Whilst some were avidly for or against WFH in the future, the vast majority were keen for balance—preferring to adopt a hybrid approach, where they could split their time between working in the office and remotely. Many stated that they have enjoyed some aspects of remote working, but emphasised their need for real-life human interaction—namely when socialising and collaborating. It’s also important to note that several people identified the benefits of WFH for those with medical conditions, feeling that more flexible policies would significantly reduce discrimination and increase opportunities for people in these groups.
How often would you want your team to get together in person?
On a scale of 1-5, how comfortable would you feel if, on any one day, you were a) working remotely but your team were in the office and b) were in the office and your team were working remotely?
Whilst Covid-19 will likely be a temporary, but memorable time in history (for the right or wrong reasons), we believe its impact on the world of work will be long-lasting and significant. This period has accelerated trends that were already gaining steam pre-Covid and made niche work practices mainstream.
It’s undeniable that the way we work has been changed forever and this will have a huge impact on employees, employers and office providers. Below, we highlight the key trends we’ve identified from our survey and the impact on decision makers.
We may only need 34% of our office space
Our analysis shows that we may only need 34% of the office space we had before, based on strict staff rotas and 100% utilisation of space. Whilst we’re likely to need more than that, WFH is here to stay as part of the “new normal”.
We still want to see each other in person
The key drivers for 70% of respondents wanting an “office of some sort” are mostly to do with collaboration, colleagues and clients. Whilst we can do these things remotely, most people don’t want to.
Demographics play a big part
Age, gender, living situation, and commute time all play a huge part in determining preferences over how people work. Pre-Covid, most employees didn’t have a choice; post-Covid, they will demand it.
Variance by sector, department or role
Employee and employer preferences vary by role and type of work. Quiet, academic work may be better performed at home or in a quiet, focused workspace; sales environments may require a buzzy, social environment for the whole team.
Flexibility is key
One size no longer fits-all. Optionality, variety and flexibility become really important. Now that most work can be done from anywhere, employees prefer different spaces to do different tasks, on different days, with different people.
Work from anywhere
A lot of people don’t want to work from home or the office, but from a third space, such as a cafe, hotel lobby, museum, a member’s club and even from abroad. Suddenly, places that were never designed to be an office will have to adapt to being one.
Impact on decision makers
Solving the office footprint puzzle
The office space decision has typically been a complex and stressful decision, made once every few years. Now there will be a huge number of new variables introduced, making the puzzle harder than ever.
The age of employee empowerment
This will be the era when employees start to have a bigger influence over real estate decisions. Employers that embrace the change will have a happy & productive workforce; those that don’t may struggle with staff retention.
Management, talent & HR challenges
How do you manage someone you hardly ever see in person? How do you on-board a new hire? How do you create and promote good culture? These questions were difficult ones to answer pre-Covid, but will become even more difficult post-Covid.
Predictable long-term income is dead
The appetite for long-term leases on large office units is likely to fall, in favour of flexible contracts, a lower sq ft to headcount ratio and more requests for on-demand space. Adapting to this will be key in maintaining income and competitiveness.
Your customers have changed overnight
Customer preferences are likely to turn upside down compared to pre-Covid. Your desk space may have to be converted into meeting space; your out-of-town locations are likely to see a rise in demand compared to your central locations. Be prepared.
Your biggest competitor is the home
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said his main competitor is sleep; your main competitor is now the home. Your product must be a good enough reason to leave home, therefore, best-in-class for collaboration and/or quiet work—and worth paying good money for.