What will flexible and remote working look like after lockdown?

Olivia JoynerResearch Director, Qualitative Research
Natasha WardSenior Research Executive, Qualitative Research
June 30, 2020, 1:09 PM UTC

YouGov conducted online focus groups to examine how distributed working is affecting Britain’s office workers

COVID-19 made working from home (WFH) mandatory for many employees – employees who might have previously only done so infrequently, if at all. But what happens when the pandemic ends, the lockdown fully lifts, and life in the office can, in theory, go back to normal?

YouGov conducted two online focus groups in June 2020 – one group with those whose offices are based in London, the other with offices based across the UK – in order to find out how employees feel about remote working. Most indicated that, post-coronavirus, they would prefer to continue working from home in one form or another: citing general convenience, benefit to wellbeing, and increased productivity, among other things.

The ups and downs of WFH

“I don’t want to go back to the office at all”, said Catrina, a 37-year-old IT professional who claimed she was saving significant amounts of time and money on her commute, doing more exercise, and getting more sleep.

Meanwhile Anna, a 33-year-old data scientist, said she was less stressed, felt more “in control of [her] timetable”, and had even managed to quit smoking.

Beyond personal wellbeing, some workers claim they’ve become more productive since the lockdown was imposed on March 23rd.  Darius, a 25-year-old office worker, shared similar sentiments – adding that alongside various benefits to his personal wellbeing, he was “less distracted” by workplace chatter and found it “easier to focus on the task at hand” in meetings. Robert, a 43-year old in a managerial position, noticed that his team has had less time to be “sociable” at home than in the office, and this has led to increased productivity.

Of course, there are obvious downsides for employees who have fewer opportunities to socialise. “It is harder, not working side by side”, said Stewart, a 32-year-old software tester. While he enjoys many aspects of working from home – such as the opportunity to take care of “life admin” – he misses the regular interactions of life in the workplace.

Samantha, a 33-year-old who works in the education sector, said she “miss[es] the office”, and that as she was fairly new in her role, the pandemic has made it more difficult to get to know her colleagues.

A few participants also said their productivity had suffered. Lola, a 28-year-old who works in property, has struggled to motivate herself, and claimed that easy access to her phone is hindering her ability to focus.

Do employees want to WFH after lockdown?

Our groups were broadly supportive of more flexible and remote working practices after lockdown, and participants emphasised the importance of individual choice within this. Polly, a 43-year-old recruiter, said her ideal arrangement would involve working from home “most of the time”, as did Maurice, a 34-year-old analyst – who said he’d only go to the office “when needed”, if at all. 

A number of participants expressed support for a four-day working week, and others suggested that they thought more remote working was an inevitable part of the transition back to “normal” office life.

Beyond the transition, though, employees are keen to keep many of the perks of working from home – and permanently jettison some of the disadvantages of the conventional 9-5 office routine.

Jason, a 43-year old project manager, may summarise the feelings of workers in both groups: “If you can let your staff WFH, then let them WFH as much as possible”, he says. “Give your employees the flexibility to choose what works for them and the business.”

Findings from this study were previously published in The Independent