Business Unusual: The Impact of Working From Home During Lockdown
After 10 weeks of lockdown, new research conducted by Question & Retain, the insights agency, has revealed how employees are coping with working from home (WFH) and their fears about a return to the workplace.
Conducted over a five-week period (4th April – 12th May) 2500 employees in the marcomms sector completed an online questionnaire (Pulse Check) covering key WFH areas including: effective communication/leadership, work/home life balance and connectivity. An addendum to the study (conducted 9th – 14th May) is a candid snapshot of how employees are feeling about a return to work.
Business leaders have long grappled with the juggling act of running a business and communicating effectively with their people – and yet the new WFH challenges are suggesting a positive shift. 57% of employees polled feel ‘well-connected’ to the leadership team and believe there is ‘sufficient and clear communication’. Of the remainder, 41% are positive but a little more equivocal stating that communication is sufficient and clear ‘for the most part’ – with only 2% indicating a lack of communication.
“As business leaders the new working scenario has forced us to assess and re-think all aspects of running a business” says Ian Henderson, CEO, AML Group – one of the agencies that participated in the study. “The main focus, quite rightly, has shifted to the people in the business, in particular their mental health and wellbeing, and effective communication is an enormous part of that.”
"66% of WFH employees aged 25 or under are suffering signs of mental ill-health"
Employees have revealed that one of the most pressing issues relating to WFH is a disconnect from colleagues. Of those surveyed, less than half (48%) stated that they feel sufficiently connected.
“Camaraderie and physical togetherness are a big part of most people’s working day – especially in an agency environment” says Fenella Grey, chair at Porter Novelli, London. “We are by nature a sociable species and working remotely and in isolation is a big challenge for many – especially younger workers. However, business has proved over night that it can adapt and move towards more progressive and flexible ways of working to accommodate wider needs.”
Work/life balance has raised issues for a number of employees with no clear division and work/life lines blurring into evenings and weekends. Employees with families are also struggling to find a satisfactory balance with a number of respondents struggling to ‘switch off’ at the end of the day. Less than one-fifth of employees surveyed seem to have cracked the balance code with just 16% stating that their work/life balance is ‘excellent’.
"97% of employees have stated that they have reservations about returning to work in the office"
The study has revealed that 66% of WFH employees aged 25 or under are suffering one or more signs of mental ill-health with 1:5 suffering extremely high and low moods or social withdrawal.
Respondents talked about being ‘overwhelmed with workload’ with work hours ‘consistently longer’ and expectations that can be ‘mentally draining’.
Older employees (45+) seem to be coping better with less than half (40%) showing any signs of mental ill-health due to WFH.
Returning to the office
97% of employees have stated that they have reservations about returning to work in the office with 82% nervous about the logistics of getting there.
The prospect of packed tubes was cited as a main concern with a number of respondents indicating that they would consider cycling into work.
On the positive side, WFH has also given employees a taste of a more flexible way of working – with a shout out to business leaders to ‘consider the possibility of WFH a few days each week.’
Talking about the impetus behind the research Annabel Dunstan, Founder and CEO, Q&R says: “As soon as lockdown was confirmed I twigged that there could well be a massive knock on effect in terms of mental health and wellbeing for those having to work from home. We devised a relevant and topical Pulse Check and invited agency leaders to get involved so that we could quickly assess the impact in the early weeks. It is clear the younger workers are the most adversely affected. It takes good communication from leadership including regular 1:1 check-ins and opportunities to feedback, to support employees in the new world we find ourselves in”.
*Q&R conducted the anonymised research among 2,500 employees working from home for UK based marcomms agencies. A ten question Pulse Check survey was designed to seek feedback on mental health and wellbeing with the emphasis on encouraging respondents to be as candid as possible.
Respondents were able to then share their reasons for selecting a particular answer, giving Q&R a quantitative and qualitative data set. Data was analysed for sentiment and key themes identified. The research was conducted between March 23rd and May 15th 2020, following the announcement of lockdown due to COVID-19.
Annabel Dunstan is Founder & CEO of Question & Retain