Future of Work

How do workers really feel about remote working? This survey had some surprising results

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Many workers feel tired and overloaded. Image: REUTERS/ Albert Gea

Douglas Broom
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Future of Work

This article is part of: The Jobs Reset Summit
  • Managers believe they’re doing well at supporting staff through changes to work wrought by the pandemic - new global survey.
  • But employees disagree, telling researchers they are tired and overworked.
  • Workers say they lack the training and support needed.
  • More than a fifth of global workers have either been furloughed or lost their jobs.

Many bosses might feel relieved or even pleased with how well they’ve handled the move to remote working in response to COVID-19 but employees don’t share this view, a new survey suggests.

In fact, many workers feel tired and overloaded, the research by the IBM Institute for Business Value says. Meanwhile, their managers are confident their teams are getting the support and training they need.

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Nearly three-quarters of managers in the survey say they’re helping their staff learn skills to work in a new way. But fewer than two-fifths of employees think they’re getting the training they need. They’re missing the face-to-face interaction being in the office brings, too.

The divide is even starker when it comes to supporting physical and emotional health. Eight out of 10 managers say they’re doing just that. But only 46% of workers believe their organization is doing enough to help them with their well-being.

work working employees employers office culture employment remote wfh work from home flexibility concerns managers Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly
The survey suggests a difference in viewpoints between employer and employee. Image: IBM

To gather the data for the survey, the researchers interviewed 3,450 executives in 20 countries, including 400 CEOs in the United States. They also sent online questionnaires to 50,000 people in eight countries.

The resulting information paints a different picture to pre-pandemic surveys that showed many people thought working from home would be preferable to commuting to work. In 2019, one global survey found 99% wanted to work remotely at least some of the time.

According to the IBM report, most workers today feel disconnected and overworked. “Our research highlights a gaping chasm between what executives think they are offering their employees and how those employees feel,” it says.

“Employers significantly overestimate the effectiveness of their support and training efforts,” it notes, adding that it’s not just a matter of differing perceptions. The survey found that 22% of employees had been either furloughed or permanently laid off since the pandemic began.

The researchers also say that management emphasis on controlling costs and moving to technologies like artificial intelligence – while “practical and even necessary” – in response to the economic impact of the pandemic may be adding to employees’ sense that they’re replaceable.

work working employees employers office culture employment remote wfh work from home flexibility concerns managers Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly
The pandemic has reshuffled organizational priorities. Image: IBM

Building better business

Executives should accept that changes brought about by the pandemic are permanent, the report says.

And it highlights the current opportunity to build better businesses, which “starts with enabling a diverse workforce to perform optimally”. Here it recommends actions for leaders including providing more support for flexible work options and emphasizing employee well-being and training.

The World Economic Forum’s recent report Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0 urges employers to use technology to create a fair and inclusive working culture that allows people to be themselves at work.

The Forum is holding The Jobs Reset Summit, from 20 to 23 October, to examine ways organizations can achieve this.

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