Majority of Employees Embrace Remote Work

They are also worried, though, about mental stress, difficulty concentrating

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer April 22, 2020
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woman happy working from home

​Surveys show that most employees feel confident about their ability to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they also have significant concerns, such as higher anxiety and stress, difficulty concentrating, and lack of social interaction.

A Glassdoor survey of nearly 1,000 U.S. workers found that 67 percent said they support their employers' decision to mandate remote work indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Sixty percent of respondents said that they are confident they can efficiently do their job remotely, and 50 percent believe they are equally or more productive working from home versus at the office.

"We're in a very unprecedented time right now where local and state government mandates require employers and employees to adjust to a new, more flexible way of working, which for many people means working entirely remotely to adhere to social distancing and other government guidelines," said Amelia Green-Vamos, Glassdoor career trends expert.

"These survey results should signal to employers that with the proper technology, tools and support, employees' perception of remote work is rather positive."

Newly remote workers and their employers, though, should remember that remote work isn't always this stressful, said Brie Weiler Reynolds, career development manager at FlexJobs, a Boulder, Colo.-based resources site and job board for remote, flexible and freelance jobs. "This is not the normal way to work remotely, with all the added stressors, working with spouses and children, with little notice, and without being able to properly set up home workstations. I've been concerned that people would endure this time of added stress and isolation and decide that remote working was not a good idea."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Flexible Work Arrangements]

Comfort Levels Differ by Age

Nearly 70 percent of employees aged 18-34 reported being confident in efficiently doing their work remotely, compared to just 44 percent of employees aged 55-64.

"This trend of embracing remote work has been made possible by technology and tools such as video calls and instant messaging—tools that many younger workers are likely more familiar and comfortable with," Green-Vamos said.

Weiler Reynolds added that using various digital communications channels to stay connected is one of the hallmarks of working remotely. "It's a much larger shift for someone who has had a 20-, 30- or 40-year career in a traditional office than it is for someone just starting in their career or has had digital communication technologies available since they started working." 

However, she pointed out that FlexJobs' data show that about half of remote workers (pre-coronavirus) were 45 years of age or older.

Hard to Focus  

A Korn Ferry survey of 783 professionals working remotely due to the coronavirus revealed that 77 percent are finding it difficult to concentrate.

Respondents said that the top distraction was watching news reports about the pandemic, followed by worrying about friends and family, worrying about the virus, and trying to work from home with kids present.

 "I've been working remotely full time since 2009 without distractions but find it difficult to concentrate now because of what's going on in my house and in the world," Weiler Reynolds agreed. "I have a 2-year-old and a 7-year-old at home, and it's been … interesting."

She said that previously, the biggest work-from-home distractions were chores or beautiful weather.

Dennis Baltzley, a senior partner at Korn Ferry and the firm's global head of leadership development, said that the lack of concentration shouldn't be a surprise as traditional work-from-home distractions are swirled in with the highly uncertain and dangerous conditions in the world presently. "The threats to personal safety can trigger a disproportionate emotional response," he said. "Add to that the rapidly changing and conflicting information with no single expert solution and this makes it disorienting for us and those around us."

Coping with Negative Thoughts, Feelings

About 73 percent of nearly 7,000 remote employees surveyed by Monster are experiencing mental stress symptoms such as nightmares, loss of focus, depression and anger, while 27 percent reported physical stress symptoms like weight loss or gain, back pain and lack of sleep. A majority of respondents (56 percent) cited health concerns as the primary cause of stress, and 80 percent believe that stress and anxiety are affecting their job productivity.

"Even for people who have been working remotely for a long time, this is a very stressful time," Weiler Reynolds said. "Employers can let their employees know what resources are available in terms of therapy and mental health counseling. It's also important for leadership to acknowledge that anxiety and stress are very real and can impact physical health."   

The Korn Ferry respondents ranked exercise as the best way to cope with shelter-in-place isolation, followed by staying in touch with loved ones.

"The No.1 thing is to remind yourself that this is not the normal remote work situation, and there are extra hurdles of stress to work through," Weiler Reynolds said. "There is no perfect way to do this right now, so doing the best you can is all you can do."

She said that it's important for remote employees to talk with their managers about making it easier to do their jobs and to be careful not to lose the boundaries between work and home.

"Finding ways to get away from your work physically can be a good thing," she said. "Put your laptop away in a drawer at the end of the day so you can't see it, turn off e-mail notifications on your phone, or take walks in place of morning and evening commutes to create boundaries between work and personal time."

Importance of Leadership

On a more positive note, 83 percent of respondents to the Korn Ferry poll said working from home with a spouse has been good for their relationship. And large majorities of homebound employees reported that their organization's leadership was doing a good job showing empathy during this trying time (99 percent) and keeping them informed (85 percent).

Baltzley said that leaders should over-communicate and give as much information as possible during the early stages of a crisis when people in grief can experience denial or anger. During the period when employees start to feel overwhelmed and helpless is when leaders should provide emotional support. "Take a minute to pause and check in with people, listen and demonstrate empathy," he said. "This is what drives connection."

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