Like many businesses and people, work for us at LiveChat changed considerably during the first part of 2020. We switched to remote work on March 12, and, since then, we’ve become a remote-first company. While our office is now open with some restrictions, everyone can work from wherever they would like.
Of course, the pandemic played a big role in our leadership making the decision, at first temporarily, to work remotely. We also administered a survey to our employees on July 10 and had 87% (148 people) of our workforce take part. The results from that survey helped guide our leadership to make a permanent move to remote work on July 29. Here’s what we found out:
When asked if they enjoyed working remotely so far, a resounding 83% of respondents said they either definitely or mostly did. That number stands out because, at the time, we had only been working remotely for four months. For many of us, we were still adjusting to our new normal. Additionally, the country was in lockdown mode, so working remotely really just meant working from home. There were no options available for working elsewhere or even getting out of the house for more than essential shopping trips.
When asked what the most important benefits to working remotely were, there was also, for the most part, consensus. However, the answers were dispersed across seven different possible answers, showing that while there is general agreement, the experience is not the same for everyone. On this question, respondents were allowed to pick two answers, so there were 287 responses.
Despite only being able to work from home at the time, 31% of LiveChatters said that the ability to work from anywhere was the biggest benefit. This was followed by not having to commute (23%), a better work/life balance (12%), increased productivity (11%), having a flexible schedule (10%), the ability to spend more time with family (7%), and other (4%).
The answers that were listed under “other” are enlightening in that they also show the benefits of remote work can be generalized but are often unique to the individual, too. Answers received were less stress because of fewer distractions, less noise, and more personal space, which were the most common. However, answers like having more time to spend with pets and time to do yoga during breaks also came in. This shows that LiveChatters have found unique ways to make remote work benefit them in personal ways.
Generally, these answers about the benefits of remote work align with what some other company surveys have shown. Commute times had been going up in recent years. A survey conducted by Upwork, a freelance platform, found that people working from home were saving nearly 50 minutes a day by not having to commute. That translates to 18 hours a month. The financial savings of not having to commute is also significant. For commuters that went to work with their car, over $750 million dollars is saved every day in time, fuel, and health costs.
Having the ability to work from anywhere, to have a flexible schedule, to spend more time with family, and to even have more time to spend with pets or to do yoga are game-changers for our lives. However, these benefits also led to a self-reported increase in productivity. Over 46% said their productivity was better than in the office, and over 44% said it was the same. Less than 5% said they were less productive.
The most popular benefits of remote work were generally agreed on, and the same held true for the struggles and drawbacks. Many, over 27%, found themselves working longer hours because they had difficulty unplugging from work. Likewise, over 26% felt lonely and isolated from their team. Unsurprisingly, less effective communication and collaboration followed loneliness and isolation as one of the main struggles with remote work. After that, it was not having the right conditions, like a home office, the right equipment, etc., for remote work in place. This was followed by having difficulty staying engaged and focused, and not having a good internet connection or having poor audio quality.
The “other” category was also used to answer the question about struggles and drawbacks to remote work. Once again, the answers were revealing. For the most part, the answers echoed the responses above. Loneliness and having difficulty unplugging from work were the most common and, the fact that people felt they need to repeat their answer, only emphasizes the problem. After that, it’s clear that LiveChatters miss the air conditioning and coffee our office used to provide us.
These all speak to practical issues people have had to get through while working remotely. Burnout is a real problem when people work more hours. That’s especially the case if they feel lonely or isolated from their colleagues while also not having as efficient communication and collaboration. Add to that not having a proper office set up at home with a bad internet connection, and it’s easy to see why people might have difficulty staying engaged and focused. While the benefits aren’t disputed, clearly, there are issues to resolve for remote work to continue to be as effective as it’s proven to be so far.
When asked what type of remote work they would prefer if it were to be introduced permanently, which it was on July 29, LiveChatters were in agreement. Over 98% wanted at least one day a week of remote work, with the most popular response, 46.6%, saying they wanted the flexibility to determine their own remote work schedule. Only 1.4% of respondents said they wanted to work in the office all of the time.
The final question in the survey asked us to pick two ways LiveChat could help us be more productive when working remotely. The most popular response, 23%, was asking for more engagement with our teams and more team-bonding activities, showing again that workers were lonely and missing their team. After that, the most popular responses also mirrored responses from other questions in the survey. Respondents wanted more encouragement to take care of their work/life balance, 22%, and more remote work equipment, 18%, to be provided. Other responses included better communication of management decisions, the selection of proper tools to support remote work, setting clear business priorities, consistent rules for remote work, and other.
In most cases, answers in the “other” category reiterated the answers above. Generally, respondents wanted more flexibility in when they work remotely. However, some of the answers provide a glimpse into what the new normal of work could look like. Benefits and perks of the job when working remotely will need to be changed and adjusted, and these answers reflected that. In fact, some of these changes have already been taking place around the world since our survey was administered. Some of the answers received were wanting a replacement for our free company lunches on Monday and Friday, a reimagining of company benefits to reflect our “new normal,” and a package of miscellaneous food and drink items to replace the snacks and drinks we used to get in our office.
To learn a little more about how these trends are affecting the world, I talked with Kamila Zdrenka-Szostak, a LiveChat HR Business Partner.
What do the results from our survey say about the current state of remote work?
The vast majority (83%) of LiveChatters like to work remotely. What they value the most is the fact that they can work from any location they want, and they don't need to commute to work, which saves a lot of time every day.
However, the home office also brings with it some disadvantages. The most difficult one is the isolation from their team and loneliness. At the same time, many people mentioned that they struggle to unplug from work.
While we are already implementing some initiatives to improve team spirit and create more space for team-building activities, we are still in the process of investigating the work/life balance challenge.
What does that mean for the future of work, in general?
Well, there are no doubts about the fact that the world has changed a lot due to COVID-19, and there is no going back to the "old times." Reality changed, and we all need to align with it. For some companies, it means moving to remote work. Many organizations like Google, Uber, or Airbnb decided to extend remote work until the summer of 2021, while some, like Twitter and Square, have already become remote-first companies.
Is that good or bad?
Neither, it’s just different. On the one hand, it gives us the opportunity to employ top talents from all over the world. Their location is not a limitation any more. Our employees can work from any place they want. They only need a good internet connection and a comfortable space. They don't waste time commuting to work or money for an expensive apartment in the city center. They can be closer to their families or take a break during office hours and simply walk their dog.
On the other hand, we are social creatures. Even if most of us are happy about the current situation and feel comfortable working from home, I'm certain we all will see some drawbacks in a few months’ time. To minimize it, we need to rethink the way we cooperate and build relationships at work. We still need to have the opportunities to actually meet each other from time to time, and that will be a huge benefit for everyone.
What are some ways to build relationships at work when working remotely?
Some initiatives can be easily adapted from in-person to the reality of online. Online breakfast or lunch has become a new standard already. We celebrate success with online wine meetings and chill out together playing online board games or even charades. Is it fun? Sure it is! Sometimes it's even more fun than it would be during a normal real meeting/party, especially when kids or pets jump into the meeting unexpectedly.
But is that enough to build and maintain a solid relationship?
Well, not exactly. When you work remotely, you’re more focused on your own goals and less on building relationships. What’s more, every single meeting or event needs to be scheduled and planned in advance. So, we are spending most of our time with the same people, most likely, from our own team.
For comparison, when you’re in the office, you have at least a few, short conversations with random colleagues every day: in the corridor, at your desk, in the kitchen, on the way to the conference room. Also, being able to see body language or simply wave to your teammates when walking through the office cannot be replaced, at least not yet. We already have tools like randomcoffee addressing some of these issues. More will be coming soon.
What has LiveChat, specifically, done to address some of these concerns?
At LiveChat, we understand that, for many employees, digital contact is not enough. They are missing the office vibes and their colleagues. There is also a group of people who simply don't have comfortable conditions at their apartment to work from home. To respond to those needs, we decided to keep our office open. Of course, there are certain rules and limits that we applied to secure everyone's safety, however, if one feels like working from the office, we can easily manage it.
We also took advantage of the weather and Wrocław’s incredible atmosphere to organize a few, small team events. Fresh air, social distancing, and small groups helped us to maintain safety and, at the same time, give people the opportunity to meet.
How does all this fit into the bigger picture?
To sum it all up, we’re in a moment when we’re aware of all the advantages and disadvantages of working from home. We need to rethink the whole concept of how our teams work together and recreate office life in this new reality the best we can.
The results of our survey, while providing an inside look at LiveChat, also show answers that reflect general trends that are happening around the world right now. Surveys conducted by The New York Times and another conducted jointly by Buffer and AngelList showed similar results. Human resources and how we work are undergoing a dramatic shift, and businesses will need to keep up and adapt.