Remember when COVID was supposed to last two weeks?
It’s now been nearly 16 months since the news first broke and many of us have been questioning how often we will step back into the office. Over the last year, remote work has gone from being a novelty to being the norm. Talk of returning to the office has faded as the virus surges, and many employers are instead planning for a permanent “virtual-first” future.
Since May, I’ve been trying to capture attitudes and predictions about remote work using a tool very close to my heart: social media. I have a community of nearly 2 million passionate professional followers on LinkedIn. Every few weeks, I’ve surveyed them using LinkedIn’s handy poll feature.
At first glance, the results might not appear mind-blowing. We pretty much like working from home. We’re saving a ton of time by not commuting. The tech isn’t perfect, but it’s getting there.
But to me, all of this speaks to something much deeper: how incredibly quickly we've been able to adapt to working from home; how long overdue we were for a work “revolution;” how many important questions remain unanswered.
A couple caveats and clarifications:
- I’m not an expert in data or surveys. I was just curious, and realized I had access to an incredible group of professionals.
- The ten polls (presented chronologically below) were shared to my 1.7-million-plus LinkedIn followers over the course of six months, starting in May.
- Each question ended up generating from 2,000-13,000 votes, so a pretty decent sample size IMO.
- Just as valuable are the dozens (sometimes hundreds!) of comments left by users on each poll, full of strategies and insights on our new WFH reality.
A big thanks to Stephanie Horstkoetter, who suggested compiling all of these results in one place!
This first poll, from early May, was an eye-opener. Just a couple months into lock-down, and seven out of 10 people were ready to throw in the towel when it came to office life.
To me, this was a clear sign that the way we work had been long overdue for a makeover. Out of convention and habit, we had clung to an in-person model, even though technology had opened up a range of other possibilities … until the crisis forced our hand.
This poll, from early June, got to the heart of one of the early concerns around remote work, i.e. were people still getting the job done? What surprised me was that nearly eight out of 10 people felt they were getting more done at home than in the office.
To think: all that time we thought we needed desks and cubicles and managers looking over our shoulders to stay on task. Turns out, many of us are best left to design our own work days.
So, obviously remote work is going to shave off a ton of commuting time. But what stood out to me from this poll in late June was how much time! More than half of respondents got back one-two hours of their day, while nearly a quarter suddenly had an extra two-plus hours of time. For lots of people, that’s life-changing.
Not to mention, that all translates to fewer cars on the road and massive reductions in emissions.
This poll, from July, was a clear indication that remote work wasn’t necessarily working for everyone. More than four out of ten respondents reported missing out on the social interactions that are such a core part of office life.
Translation: we’ve found ways to get the job done remotely using Zoom, Slack, etc., but we’ve got a long way to go when it comes to making that experience rewarding and fulfilling for everyone.
Hustle and grit are values that I put a lot of stock in, as an entrepreneur and as a leader. For all the challenges we’ve faced this year, it’s been inspiring to see how many people are using this as an opportunity to take charge of their careers, as this poll from August shows.
For some, this has meant starting a business of their own. For others, it’s been about learning new ways to do their job, under new conditions. But resting on our laurels doesn’t seem to be a popular option!
Another elephant in the room when it comes to remote work: we need better tools to do it right. Based on this poll from September, it looks like people are actually OK with Zoom and video conferencing. But there’s a real need for apps that help to manage productivity, as well as platforms to enrich remote onboarding and culture. I see both of these as huge areas of opportunity for tech startups in the years to come.
As the reality of long-term remote work set in, I think lots of us realized that we needed to start rethinking benefits and perks.
Office gyms and catered lunches don’t make sense during a pandemic, so what do people really need right now? Topping the results from this poll in September: benefits to support health and wellness, particularly mental health. With school closures continuing, coming up with solutions for childcare is also critical.
This poll from early October is kind of a mindblower to me: one out of two respondents is doing more gig work since the pandemic started. This speaks, in part, to how deep the accompanying economic crisis is. But it also says something about the shifting nature of work. My theory: remote work has accelerated already weakening ties between employer and employee. People are realizing that they can go it on their own, without a support network, and are taking that plunge.
The deeper we get into remote work, the clearer it’s becoming that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work. As this poll from late October shows, the overwhelming majority of people want to spend at least some time inside a traditional office setting. Employers are quickly realizing that the way forward lies with a hybrid model — virtual-first but with significant in-office components.
This poll from early November reveals a good news-bad news situation, at least in my eyes. On the one hand, nearly two-thirds of respondents say they’re great at managing themselves in the work-from-home context.
However, the remaining third either miss the office environment or are having serious issues sustaining productivity remotely. It’s also worth bearing in mind that these results probably skew a little optimistically.
Translation: as remote work continues, it’s going to be incumbent on employers to provide structure and help team members up-level their self-management skills.
What does this mean?
Zooming out, what’s exciting to me about all of these stats is the undercurrent of optimism and possibility. The crisis has (and continues to be) exceptionally hard in so many ways — from a health and safety standpoint, emotionally, economically, etc.
But when it comes to the way we work, it seems to have jumpstarted important changes that needed to be made. With each passing week, it’s less likely we’ll return to “business as usual,” and that may well be a good thing.
Our challenge now is to build on some of this momentum, while addressing the gaps that have emerged. Policy, technology and culture all need time to catch up to our new work-from-home reality.
But for entrepreneurs and companies out there, this all presents significant opportunities in the years ahead.
A big thank you goes out to everyone who responded to these polls over the past six months or so. I think these insights are worth sharing, and I plan to continue gathering data on the remote work experience in the months ahead.
Thanks, as well, to LinkedIn for making this incredible polling functionality available. (If you haven’t tried LinkedIn Polls, starting one is as simple as clicking “Create a poll.”)
On that note: What survey questions would you like to see asked about remote work? What areas need to be explored? What are the pressing issues you’d like to know more about? Let me know in the comments below.