Faced with the pandemic, industries and workforces across the globe were forced to close offices and quickly implement new working practices. For knowledge workers, it meant a shift to working from home and finding new ways to stay connected to colleagues: Zoom usage soared to 300 million daily meeting participants in April 2020 compared to 10 million in December 2019.
For many companies, remote working allowed them to sustain productivity in the early stages of lockdown and shone a light on the positives of flexible working to organisations who wouldn’t have otherwise considered it as an option for their employees. But alongside its advantages, remote working also brings problems: The social capital required to keep teams operating at a distance is being eroded, while equity issues, in particular for younger workers around onboarding, training and promotion, are beginning to emerge.
These are issues that will need to be addressed because, as the findings from the YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project survey (produced in collaboration with researchers from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change) show, working from home at least to some degree is likely to become a permanent feature of the working environment.
The survey asked people in 25 countries about their expectations for after the pandemic. The survey was conducted online, so in countries with lower internet penetration, results should be viewed as indicative rather than representative of the whole population. For questions on the future of work, this analysis focuses on the respondents who describe themselves as currently working, excluding those who answered “Not applicable – I am not currently working”.
Globally, among the respondents that are currently working, people expect that, relative to prior to the pandemic, they will use video calls more in the future instead of holding meetings, discussions or events in person. In particular, people in Nigeria (81 per cent), India (75 per cent), South Africa (75 per cent) and China (70 per cent) expect to use more online video calls, with relatively fewer respondents expecting to use video calls more in GB (46 per cent), the US (43 per cent), France (40 per cent) and Germany (28 per cent) .
In addition, those currently in work in India (70 per cent), Nigeria (66 per cent), South Africa (62 per cent) and China (52 per cent) show a relatively greater expectation that they will be working remotely in the future than in Spain (47 per cent), the US (37 per cent), GB (35 per cent), France (31 per cent), and Germany (26 per cent). Across most countries, only a relatively small fraction of the respondents that were currently working – from around 5 per cent in the UK and 11 per cent in the US to 15 per cent in China and India – say they are less likely to work from home post-pandemic.
Across the G7 countries, the results for those currently working reveal some common characteristics among those that believe they will most likely work from home more post-pandemic than before it: They tend to be relatively younger, educated to a tertiary level, more likely to believe that globalisation is beneficial and relatively more permissive on immigration.
In the UK, the likelihood of working from home more after the pandemic (for those respondents currently in work) is highest in the youngest age bracket (49 per cent for 18- to 24-year-olds), and declines steadily with age (to just 21 per cent for the over-55s). In the US, the expectation of increased working from home is high (over 40 per cent) among younger workers, peaking at 47 per cent for the 35-to-44 age bracket, before falling off again for older workers (37 per cent for the 45-to-54 age bracket and 27 per cent for the over-55s).
This shift matters because its implications for the future of work are as deep as they are varied. As uncertainty persists, business models are being changed and governments have not necessarily risen to the moment either domestically or internationally to support them. For businesses, the challenge is ensuring that short-term tactical decisions on remote working do not end up dictating or constraining longer-term strategic choices about where and why they reorganise and manage their workforce. For government, the challenge is to avoid reactive, impulsive regulatory solutions, focusing instead on fostering collaboration, supporting training and minimising inequality.
Editor's Note: Some data in charts and text may vary slightly due to rounding. Participants for the survey were selected from an online panel, which should be taken into account in responses to questions about online activities, particularly in countries with low levels of internet access. More information about the research and results can be found here: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/yougov-cambridge/globalism-project