Our working from home experience during lockdown has meant that our expectations have changed forever.
During the last 3 months People Insight have used our Covid-19 pulse surveys to help clients understand their employees’ experience of working from home during lockdown.
Our aim has been to provide insight so we can adjust the support, communication, tools, resources and human compassion we provide to best meet peoples’ needs going forwards. Our research of over 8,000 UK employees has uncovered a range of useful findings to help make the post-lockdown employee experience as engaging as possible for everyone.
Covid-19 – What have organisations got right?
It’s unsurprising perhaps that organisations who engage us to survey their staff during Covid-19 see on the whole, very positive results. The very act of listening – and turning around survey quickly at this time is engaging itself. When anything changes, asking staff for their views makes them feel listened to, involved, and significant.
‘I appreciate the regular team catch ups and firm-wide training sessions they make me feel like I am still involved and we are all still in this together. Thank you for putting together this survey as well it is encouraging to see that the people who design and enact our internal policies and initiatives are listening.’
Our clients have asked a variety of questions assessing the following themes:
- Leadership – are leaders and managers visible and providing direction and support
- Communication – is the volume, quality and clarity of message right
- Resources – do people have the tools they need to work from home
- Wellbeing – do people feel their physical / mental health is being supported
- Business continuity – can people collaborate and provide normal levels of customer service
It’s common in employee engagement surveys to see questions that relate to the respondent’s personal behaviour and performance score better than those that relate to their teams. It’s also common to see questions that relate to the behaviour and performance of line managers score much better than those that relate to senior leaders.
What do the results tell us?
What stands out in the Covid-19 pulses, are results that show more favourable scores than usual for leadership, communication and direction. At this time of crisis, the data suggests leaders have stepped up, providing ample and often novel comms.
Organisations have used networks such as Yammer and Workplace to provide video updates from leaders, and collaborative forums where employees across departments that wouldn’t normally be in touch, can join discussions and support each other. These have been incredibly well received.
‘The vlogs, daily updates from Exco and colleagues have been great. Really feel we are treated as one. Everyone has pulled together and its showing, our results and team spirit in our team are the highest ever.’
The results also show the tone of more compassionate, less formal internal comms has been so appreciated – and clearly has an impact on how employees feel about their organisation.
‘This company really has managed to make us employees feel well taken care of and important. I feel proud to be so attentively cared for by an employer who has so many employees!’
A key element of these ‘from the top’ communications is how employees are expected to behave in a crisis. There’s a real difference in responses where organisations expect individuals to achieve the same inputs and outputs, compared to those that have adjusted their expectations – even temporarily:
‘Reduce expectations. Its not business as usual. To say that ignores the difficulties people are facing.’
‘You’ve shown compassion by recognising everyone is under different pressures and reassuring that good work is still being done regardless.’
Covid-19 – What have organisations not got right?
It’s pretty unanimous across organisations that the greatest bugbear for desk-based employees is not having the resources that they are used to in the office, such as proper desk chairs, larger or second monitors, or specific equipment to help overcome e.g. visual impairment. Using own devices at home is problematic because of compatibility problems, access to central systems and the need to share devices and Wi-Fi bandwidth with other members of the household. Some staff are particularly disgruntled where they are providing equipment to do their jobs at their own cost.
Whilst these problems do require investment to solve, its clear that organisations who had geared up for flexible working prior to lockdown, or responded by introducing tools, tech and IT support quickly have fared significantly better than those that haven’t. It might be argued that it’s much easier to provide tangible goods, rather than influence culture and behaviour in this situation.
One organisation has provided each employee with £200 so they can improve their working from home set up individually rather than managing it centrally. Again, while this requires investment at a time of financial squeeze for many organisations, the gesture pays dividends in terms of demonstrating care, support, trust and empowers employees to solve their individual challenges.
‘The budget of up to £200 for WFH equipment was extremely generous and something a lot of other firms are NOT doing.’
Working from home: What our employees want
As we’ve got more experience of working from home, it’s become easier to evaluate the pros and cons. Almost all respondents across organisations want to continue some working from home after lockdown.
78% of respondents feel they can work at home as effectively or more effectively than in the office. However, perhaps surprisingly, WFH is not the only way we’d like to work; 50% of survey respondents said their preference was 1-2 days working from home. 31% want 3-4 days per week, and less than a fifth of respondents want to work from home all the time.
So why is this? The lack of commute is a definite upside for most. More freedom to chose workspace, make lunch at home, fit in exercise, household tasks and deliveries are commonly cited as positives. Looking at the Covid-19 pulse survey results in detail, the pros and cons are more behaviourally nuanced.
Where can we work best: At home or in the office?
The results show that where we need to concentrate on focussed, creative or confidential tasks, working from home is much preferred.
Thanks to communications via video calls, Yammer or Workplace posts and good old email, satisfaction with being kept aware of what’s going on is pretty similar whether respondents are in the office or at home.
However, as the table below shows, some frustrations exist when it comes to the more human connections, where in–person conversations are preferred. Managing or coaching others or collaborating on a project is much easier – and perhaps quicker – when subtle body language and facial expressions can be communicated. We’ve all experienced the frustration of the video call where everyone is looking, but no one is able to make eye contact.
Of course, different roles require different behaviours. The results show that working from home is most popular with administrative roles, whereas consultants want more in office time.
Internal comms have been prolific, now we can ease up a little
Unanimously, at the start of lockdown, the survey shows people devoured multiple communications and felt informed, connected and updated. Indeed, 86% of respondents felt that the level of comms in their organisation was about right.
Particularly enjoyed have been short informal videos from senior leaders, especially when rotated around different leadership team members. Frequent check–ins with line managers are also essential. Yammer and Workplace have provided vital discussion opportunities, although it can be easy to miss things on the feed. A universal request from respondents is to have all key communications in one place, on one channel and kept uncluttered. In addition, as time goes on, we can reduce the frequency and length of messages and discussion groups, as situations settle and routines becomes a bit more established.
Female parents and those who live alone experience particular challenges working from home
Of course, our employees are far from a homogeneous group. Looking at our survey demographics in detail, we can reveal some significant differences between groups (although not all protected characteristics, e.g. race or sexual orientation, were captured in this particular dataset.)
As we might expect, those who live alone reported greater ability to concentrate on their work, but unfortunately their results were more negative across the board. Isolation in lockdown is a key threat to wellbeing, and in turn engagement with work. People living with others – especially those with caring responsibilities feel more positive overall, despite the frustrations of constant interruptions and juggling caring, and home schooling.
A particular quote that rang true from a home-aloner is ‘I have to rely on myself for motivation and energy.’ Helping your people have enough meaningful contact with others inside and outside work is essential for good mental health.
What can prevent effective home working?
Looking at the difference between men and women, our results echo findings from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).
‘In lockdown, mothers in two-parent households are only doing, on average, a third of the uninterrupted paid-work hours of fathers. This sharp reduction in the time that mothers are spending dedicated to paid work risks lasting harm to their careers when the lockdown is lifted.’
42% of female respondents are finding things other than IT and equipment are preventing them working effectively in the current circumstances, vs 30% of men. Ten times as many open text comments from women reveal childcare and home schooling are preventing them working effectively compared to men.
Although the IFS reports that men are doing significantly more childcare compared to 2014-15, dads across the country are disappearing into the study for the day’s work whilst mums are left to share the kitchen table with home schoolers.
Our efforts to support wellbeing during Covid-19 lockdown have been heard, but how effective are they?
There’s no doubt that Covid-19 warranted a step up in our efforts to support wellbeing – almost overnight. The good news is that in the organisations we surveyed, those efforts have been well received. 82% of respondents responded positively to ‘I know where to go to for support regarding my health, safety and wellbeing’ and 88% were satisfied with the steps their organisation is taking to support their health and wellbeing.
Looking deeper in the data, whilst it’s great to see junior and administrative roles respond positively to ‘I feel sufficiently supported by my manager’, there’s a 70-percentage point spread between the most junior and senior roles. Leaders have bent over backwards to ensure their colleagues are supported, but may now be experiencing ‘strain and drain’.Who is supporting them? Coaching support should right now be high on the agenda for leadership teams – as well as paying attention to the organisation’s own wellbeing messages.
Despite efforts to provide support, we saw a fall in scores for the question ‘How would you rate your health & wellbeing right now’ with only 67% of respondents indicating excellent, good or fair. The over 40-year olds are more positive than the under 40s and the under 25-year olds are the least positive. Again, this is in line with the IFS;
“Mental health in the UK worsened substantially as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic – by 8.1% on average and by much more for young adults and for women which are groups that already had lower levels of mental health before Covid-19.”
Employee engagement during Covid-19: More resources
- Free question set: Employee engagement during COVID-19
- Free question set: consult your employees about returning to work
- COVID-19: How organisations are preparing for the end of lockdown
- COVID-19: How organisations are adapting
- Should you be surveying during COVID-19?
- Line managers: Creating a new normal during COVID-19
- Support for HR: Keeping employees engaged and motivated during COVID-19
- Our favourite wellbeing content to get us through Covid-19 lockdown
- Not alone but lonely: How to tackle workplace isolation and improve wellbeing at work
- Homeworking and homeschooling in Covid 19
- The 80 best email newsletters from Learnably
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