The COVID-19 outbreak forced companies across the UK to embrace remote working. In many cases, this meant fast-tracking the use of new digital communication and collaboration tools to support their dispersed teams. As we enter 2021 and we move into the recovery stage of the pandemic, it is becoming increasingly clear that hybrid working is here to stay. To ensure business success, it is vital employers now reassess the way they support remote workers to optimise for long-term productivity.
According to research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), employers expect the proportion of regular home workers to increase from 18% to 37%. CIPD resourcing and inclusion policy adviser, Claire McCartney, believes this transition requires a major rethink: “Many companies moved to working from home in a very quick, ad hoc way … organisations now have to consider the best way to support their employees working from home.”
To help organisations understand which tools are most useful and where additional support is required, we asked over 400 UK employees about their experiences of remote working since the outbreak of the pandemic. Our findings indicate a number of ways employers could use these technologies to greater effect (the full research methodology can be found at the bottom of the article).
Online meeting software is critical to productivity
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t just changed where we work, it has also had a major impact on how we do it, requiring new solutions to maintain business continuity. Fortunately, there are a multitude of tools available to help staff work more efficiently remotely.
Our survey revealed that a quarter (25%) of workers consider online meeting software, such as Zoom, one of the three most important productivity tools. Document sharing tools like Google Docs rank second (23%), with collaboration software, including Slack, a close third (20%).
A closer look at the frequency staff are using these tools reveals some interesting insights. Despite respondents ranking collaboration software highly as a productivity aid, more than a third of employees (37%) state they never to use it. A surprising statistic at a time when companies need cross-functional teams to connect and collaborate more than ever.
Document sharing tools and online meeting software, meanwhile, are being used at least daily by almost half of all respondents (44% and 43% respectively).
Some employees are forced to source their own productivity tools
In many cases, the speed at which staff had to transition to remote working at the outset of the pandemic led to less-than-ideal support from their employers. 71% had to use personal tools to work remotely, suggesting many companies are not providing the functionality staff need to be at their most effective.
Of those, the use of personal messaging apps (such as WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams and Facebook Messenger) to collaborate with colleagues was common. Similarly, video conference (e.g. Zoom, Viber and Skype) is also used for this purpose. And some respondents found it necessary to use their own devices, including smartphones and laptops.
With hybrid working rapidly becoming the norm, it is increasingly important all business-critical tools are provided by employers – to maximise security, ensure compliance, and support remote employees adequately.
26% require an improved home office to work productively
The results of the survey point towards a significant proportion of workers needing additional support from employers to help them adapt to remote working. The home office environment is a major factor, with over a quarter (26%) saying they need a more comprehensive set-up to work productively. Connectivity issues, relating to company intranet or the public internet services, have also proven a significant challenge for almost half (42%) of respondents.
These obstacles are further compounded by cybersecurity concerns for more than half (53%) of employees – concerns which could be alleviated by providing secure company hardware and software, rather than leaving employees to source it themselves.
Despite a strong desire to return to the office, concerns remain
According to our findings, while the vast majority of employees feel positive about hybrid ways of working (76% would like to work remotely on at least a weekly basis), there is enthusiasm to see some transition back to the office. The most popular modalities are all hybrid in nature – requiring flexible software solutions to keep teams productive.
Despite this positivity, there are concerns about the implications of employees, as opposed to management, being able to determine their own place of work. The key fears include missing out on informal chats and the risk of preferential treatment being extended to office-based workers—both of which are a moderate or major concern for half of respondents.
Overall, while feelings about hybrid working are predominantly positive, our survey highlights significant need for some employers to ensure systems and support measures are robust enough to safeguard productivity. Simply investing in effective tools will not be enough if access and training are lacking.
Data for this study was collected in November 2020 from an online survey of 404 respondents that live in the UK.
To participate in the survey, respondents had to be:
- Employed full-time or part-time, or self-employed
- Working for a company with at least two people
- Working remotely sometimes or all the time since COVID-19.