The COVID-19 pandemic sent workers across the world to the safety of their own homes, where many continued to perform their jobs via telework. Nearly a quarter of all Americans teleworked in August 2020 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and results of a new Bucknell University Freeman College of Management survey of U.S. teleworkers found, perhaps surprisingly, that older workers over 40 preferred telework the most, while younger millennials are more likely to return to work in-person after the pandemic.
Eddy Ng, Bucknell's James & Elizabeth Freeman Professor of Management; and Andrew Lam, a graduate student at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, conducted the online survey of more than 400 U.S. teleworkers between May and August 2020. They posted the survey results today on the Bucknell University website, just weeks before the March 11 anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic declaration.
Among respondents over 40, 45% would prefer to continue teleworking after the pandemic, compared to 30% of those under 40.
"Most millennials are tech-savvy and they're completely capable of adapting to new technology, but those individuals are much more likely to say they would like to return to the workplace," Ng says. "They claim that they are more isolated and have a fear of missing out on the activities that are important for career advancement, and being mentored."
The survey found that 64% of all respondents were satisfied with virtual work and about a third (36%) would like to continue teleworking after the pandemic. The majority of them also reported that information and communication technology (ICT) helped them perform their job better while working virtually — with 67% reporting it helped to improve the quality of work, and 61% reporting that it improved their productivity.
"A lot of people are not used to using technology, but people found that it was easier to use than anticipated and they had high ICT user rates," Ng says. "But employer support was critical to make sure they had the right tools and training to use the ICT."
Managers were also more likely to report an increase in productivity through telework, with 30% reporting a productivity increase compared to 26% among non-managers. "It is possible that managers were interrupted less frequently by subordinates when working from home," Ng says.
Nearly half of the respondents (49%) felt that they were able to balance personal and work life, but only one in five reported that their productivity was better than it was while working in-person. Home disruptions — especially interruptions from school-age children who were home during the pandemic — could be a possible explanation, according to Ng.
A majority of surveyed employees (57%) were not engaged in telework prior to the pandemic, but 63% reported that their employer demanded that they telework. Most respondents (55%) tended to work for larger employers (500+ employees), while 9% worked for companies with 10 or fewer employees.
Ng and Lam conclude that employers have an opportunity to improve on their organizational performance by adopting telework as a long-term business strategy.
"There is potential for greater efficiency and quality of work through continued investment in resources (skills training and career support) and infrastructure (ICTs) for teleworking employees," they wrote in the report. "At the same time, employers will need to put in place strategies to foster greater informal connections particularly for younger employees (under 40) who are engaged in telework. Telework can be a viable alternative to in-person work and it has the potential to improve work efficiency and reduce employer costs as we move to a remote economy."
Ng invites workers who have transitioned to working remotely to continue participating in the survey through this link. The researchers plan to continue studying the evolution of employee adaptation to telework over time through the different phases of the pandemic.
The survey is supported in part by Bucknell's James & Elizabeth Freeman Chair in Management and funded by L'OBVIA (Observatoire international sur les impacts sociétaux de l'intelligence artificielle et du numérique/International Observatory on the Societal Impacts of AI and Digital Technology). Nine additional researchers are conducting similar surveys in Australia, Canada and France. Survey results from Canada can be found here.