Navigating new versions of ‘normal’

Navigating new versions of ‘normal’

Flash survey results: How Lab Report readers are adapting to long-term remote work.

When does “place” matter, and how do organizations adapt when “place” isn’t possible? This year, coronavirus cases have surged in different locations at different times, and organizations have been constantly evaluating and adjusting to protect employees while important work continues. For the foreseeable future, many teams will be navigating the ambiguous territory between full shutdowns and full reopenings.

Luminary Labs conducted a flash survey from August 13-25, 2020, to find out how people and companies are adapting to the ongoing pandemic — and how attitudes toward reopening have shifted since our May 2020 flash survey. We asked Lab Report readers and our extended network to tell us when offices are reopening and what employees are doing to improve their remote work experience. The following is a narrative snapshot of the responses we received.

A small minority are back at the office, and only part-time.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (85%) are currently working from home exclusively. The remainder of respondents (15%) are splitting their work time between home and office. This is only a slight shift from our previous flash survey, in which 95% of respondents said they were exclusively working from home.

Reopening plans have shifted.

In May, only one in 10 respondents said their office would wait until 2021 to reopen; nearly half thought they’d reopen in the summer and one-third expected to reopen in the fall. But things have changed over the past few months. Now, in August, half of respondents (52%) think their office won’t reopen until 2021. Only 15% say their office has already reopened, and another 15% expect to reopen this fall.

Employees express a spectrum of attitudes toward going back to the office.

Some are eager to return, and companies are doing their best to accommodate those who want to be in the office — increasing the frequency of cleaning, installing partitions between work spaces, and reducing capacity. But some may feel pressure to return, even if they don’t want to. (One respondent said they’d be returning to an office soon, but “not voluntarily.”) Many respondents acknowledged that remote work has its benefits and tradeoffs. The flexibility is refreshing, and right now, it may be safer than working in an office. But the lack of social interaction, predictability, and routine can be stressful and unproductive for some. When it comes to “remote everything,” as Jerry Seinfeld wrote this week, “everyone hates to do this.”

Newly remote workers are settling in for a longer haul.

Only 12% expect to be in the office full-time or part-time this fall, down from 42% in our first survey. Two-thirds (67%) say they don’t plan to return to an office until 2021, up from 29%. Some respondents (6%) don’t plan to go back until a coronavirus vaccine is available, and 12% don’t plan to return to an office at all.

The sudden shift to remote work has been challenging. Here’s how Lab Report readers are making it better:

  • Managing time and schedules. Merging work and personal calendars, sharing calendars with family members, building breaks for lunch with kids or playtime with pets, attending virtual workshops, and blocking certain hours for “non-Zoom” time.
  • Prioritizing health and exercise. Carving out time for early morning walks, lunchtime bike rides, scheduled exercise classes, yoga, meditation, therapy sessions, and outdoor activities such as hiking or gardening.
  • Creating new rituals and routines. Replacing commute time with new rituals that signal the start or end of the day, from closing the laptop or scheduling screen-free time to lighting a candle and tidying workspaces.
  • Redesigning physical spaces for work. Separating work and personal spaces, upgrading home office furniture, and building makeshift standing desks.

As one reader commented, “we have bought all the things.” Those who have the means have purchased different types of items to improve time spent at home:

  • Office furniture and equipment. Ergonomic chairs, desks and standing desks, noise-canceling headphones, notebooks, faster WiFi, desk risers and computer stands, seat and back cushions, printers, scanners, second monitors, ethernet and peripheral cables … and the new work-from-home uniform: loungewear.
  • Health and fitness equipment. Nintendo RingFit, foam rollers, hiking gear, and blue-light glasses.
  • Family entertainment. Nintendo Switch, video games, board games, jigsaw puzzles, books and e-readers, musical instruments, and subscriptions to streaming services such as Disney+.
  • Home enhancements. Plants, artwork, outdoor grills, patio furniture … and when all else fails, new houses outside the city.

Respondents are driving, biking, and walking more.

Half of respondents (52%) say they have made changes to the types of transportation they use — more driving and biking, fewer train and subway trips. This may not necessarily be due to safety concerns; since most people are still working from home, there’s no need for a daily commute. Outside of major cities, most people complete local errands by car. Several respondents also mentioned they have incorporated daily walks or bike rides into their routines as a way to get fresh air and exercise.

Remote employees are finding new ways to stay connected.

Just over one-third (36%) of respondents have seen a coworker in person this summer. Not surprisingly, many respondents mentioned using video conferencing, chat apps, and old-fashioned phone calls to collaborate and catch up.

One reader asked, “how do we replace the serendipity of hallway conversations?” That problem may not yet be solved — but Lab Report readers shared their tips for making virtual meetings more interesting:

  • Spend the first five minutes catching up.
  • Schedule a 15-minute check-in and don’t talk about work. Try choosing a random “water cooler” topic to discuss.
  • Get food delivered and eat a “virtual lunch” together.
  • Use Zoom breakout rooms for informal, small-group chats.
  • Send asynchronous voice messages instead of video chatting.
  • Find Twitter chats or Slack groups focused on your industry or a topic of interest. Some groups host virtual workshops or Zoom social hours.
  • The next time a LinkedIn connection asks to “pick your brain,” say yes.
  • Don’t force it — normalize turning off video cameras or replacing video meetings with phone calls or emails.
  • Take time to review what you’ve accomplished and what you’re looking forward to.

Life in 2020 requires extra empathy — for our colleagues and ourselves.

No matter how an organization operates or where its employees live and work, everyone is dealing with something. A respondent who always worked remotely said that this year, their team has had to “take it a little easier … to help with the extra stress outside of work.” If you’ve worried about longer work hours, burnout, or an inability to focus, you’re not alone; other Lab Report readers expressed the same concerns. Bidirectional flows of information and open lines of communication are still important. Another respondent recommended actively communicating what you need to do and feel your best, because “it’s not obvious unless you ask for it.”

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Jessica Hibbard
Head of Content & Community
Sara Holoubek
Founding Partner and CEO