One of the many consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a drastic shift in the way we all work. For close to two months now, those who can work from home have been doing so, and such a quick pivot from office work to remote work has required a lot of adjustment.

Now that the curve appears to be flattening and discussions are starting up about reopening economies and allowing employees to return to work, we wanted to look at what some of the repercussions of the shift to remote office work have been.

Using Survey Monkey, we polled 1,082 U.S. respondents between the ages of 18-65 about their work from home experiences and attitudes about returning to the office. Job responsibilities of those surveyed included staff and clerical, managers and supervisors, senior managers, VPs, and C-suite, as well as CEOs and board members.

Below is a summary of the key findings from the survey.

Employees are nervous about returning to the office

From the survey, it’s clear that a sizable segment of respondents have concerns about returning to the office once physical distancing restrictions are lifted. Of those polled, 38% claimed they were nervous about returning to work and would wait to see what safety measures were implemented, while a further 6% said they will not like returning but that their manager or boss will force them to do so.

Though a number of respondents (33%) are excited to return to the office, it’s clear that companies will have to put forth concerted efforts to make employees feel safe if they want the workforce to return in full. Some ideas about how offices can support physical distancing include implementing a system of rotating shifts where half of the employees come in on Mondays and Wednesdays, for example, and the other half of Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Offices themselves will likely also change, with many predicting the death of the open concept office and the return of cubicles. More offices may eliminate or reduce dedicated desks in favor of hot desks that can be fully sanitized at the end of each work day.

Even though many are productive doing remote work, in-office work still serves a purpose

Our survey found that many employees have been able to be productive doing remote work -- 39% of respondents found that they are more productive working remotely. And a large number (42%) said they think remote work will eventually replace physical offices. Of those who do not feel more productive working from home, reasons included not having the same resources available (21%) and too many distractions in the form of kids and chores (17%).

Despite many employees feeling they’re able to be just as, or more productive at home as at the office, our survey highlighted at least one clear role the office plays: enabling and fostering connection between coworkers. 60% of survey respondents reported finding it difficult to maintain work relationships while working remotely, and 28% said they missed interacting with coworkers despite being more productive at home.

Generational and job position divides

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the results of the survey showed that sentiments did not net out evenly across generational lines, nor across different job positions. Interestingly, many of the responses did not reflect typical assumptions about the different groups.

For example, younger respondents (18-29), who are generally considered to be technophiles, were more likely to say that remote work would not replace physical offices (41%), while their older, and presumably more technophobic colleagues (45-60) were more likely to say that it would (45%).

Another interesting divide: Senior-level employees reported feeling less stressed and taking a greater number of breaks throughout the day than did their junior-level counterparts. Senior-level managers also said they are more productive at home compared to clerical and staff employees who reported not having remote access to the resources they need to be effective.

Takeaways

The pandemic has caused a shift in many entrenched ideas about office work. Remote work suddenly seems like a far more viable option than it has in the past, particularly as businesses reassess the wisdom of carrying expensive leases during an economic downturn.

In-person office work will continue to have a place in the future, but changes will need to be implemented if workers are going to feel safe returning. Some fusion of remote and in-person work will likely become the new normal, for a while at least.