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Case studies
5 min

The Nature of Changing Workplaces: How has COVID-19 affected the way that we work?

Examining the shift in workplaces due to the covid-19 pandemic

GrapeData
Nov 10, 2022
Cybersecurity
B2C market research

Can we ever return to the way we worked before the pandemic?

There’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally impacted the way that we work. It’s been almost three years since the WHO announced the pandemic. Over the period, we lived through countless lockdowns and emergency declarations, whilst struggling to keep our jobs. Slowly, people began to return to work, while many others lost their jobs. But how has the way that we work changed over these years? What is the new normal if one even exists? 

As part of a collaborative project with the research team at Oxford’s GlobalCybersecurity Capacity Centre (GCSCC), we conducted a global online survey of 7330 internet users spread across 133 countries, to help examine how workplaces have changed during and after the pandemic. The global online survey was conducted from the period of June 2022 to September 2022. For an overview of the research, check our recent blog post titled ‘Helping Oxford’s Global Cybersecurity Centre (GCSCC) conduct a survey on Cybersecurity across Workplaces’. 

Work from home, hybrid work, and decentralised workplaces: What is the Difference? 

The return to work after the pandemic took many forms including work-from-home; hybrid work environments; and decentralised workplaces. Let’s take a closer look at what the terms mean. While we’re all familiar with working from home, hybrid work is a little different in the sense that it’s a combination of remote and in-person work. For instance, while working remotely, some people tend to feel isolated, and lonely and have communication problems. Hybrid work allows people to get the best of both worlds: the flexibility of remote work and social interactions with colleagues when at the workplace. 

Shifting gears to remote work, this term is loosely defined as a flexible working environment where employees work outside a traditional office setup. Remote work is a broad term and therefore can be interpreted differently. One interpretation of it is that it includes WFH or work in a decentralised workspace or even mobile work. A decentralised workplace can be seen as a physical or virtual co-working space such as Bizspace or WeWork. Decentralised work can then be defined as work that takes place in these shared spaces.  FT’s recent article titled ‘The five things that the tech bubble got right’ article sheds light on this topic, naming remote work as a thriving force now and in the future.

The internet is a major development that has enabled remote work to be conducted at such a large scale as it is today. Think of TikTokers who become overnight influencers or self-taught IT engineers who make six-figure incomes. Internet usage is not only wide, but people are widening their reach on it as well. Our survey data suggests that 48% of respondents are skilled online and can show others how to use it. What’s interesting, however, is the fact that the pandemic did not lead almost 60% of them to download any new applications. It would be absorbing to see why this is the case in the follow-up research from the team at GCSCC. 

Where were respondents working during the period of the global online survey? 

Findings from the global survey of 7330 internet users revealed that:

1. Only 5% of respondents were working in a decentralised work centre

2. Over 35% of respondents were working and studying from home

3. Around 30% of respondents were working from their offices or university and; 

4. Approximately 25% of respondents were working or studying in a hybrid environment

What does the data tell us? From the above figures, we can see that decentralised work centres are less popular among the respondents surveyed, with people slightly gravitating towards WFH or in-person workplaces. While there are several reasons for this, one of which may be the feeling of increased isolation due to the pandemic that perhaps now people don’t want to experience, what will be interesting to see are the granular reasons behind these figures in the follow-up research from the team. 

Remote work: Working hard or hardly working? 

Today, there’s also some controversy that surrounds the terms hybrid work and work from home.  Some people view working from home as unproductive, while others think it boosts productivity. Earlier this year, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said that remote work “does not work” for “those who want to hustle", at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Summit. However, we’ve seen the tides shift now, with many people embracing remote work as organisations have built frameworks to manage employees and save costs. Some general patterns from the research conducted by the team at GCSCC also confirm this shift towards remote work. Overall themes from the research are listed below:

  1. Work from home is more common after the pandemic, while decentralised work has taken a hit
  2. While people prefer to work from home, it’s still perceived to have drawbacks, such as feeling lonely
  3. Currently, most organisations offer flexible work options to their employees (around 50% of respondents surveyed said that their organisation allows hybrid work) 

It’s plain to see that beliefs and attitudes toward the workplace aren’t entirely the same as before the pandemic. According to the study, approximately 70% of respondents surveyed preferred work from home; over 60% preferred hybrid while only 40% favoured working outside of the home (see slide 22). 

Why is work from home so prevalent today? One reason could be the fact that no one wants to spend hours commuting during peak times. In remote or hybrid environments, people have a lot of flexibility not only in terms of time but also location. Another reason could be that not everyone is at their highest productivity in an office environment. Some people view offices as loud, noisy, or distracting. The research, backed by our survey data, suggests that approximately 60% of respondents feel more productive while working from home. 

From the perspective of employers, decentralised workspaces are a viable option due to local talent shortages. For instance, a BCG report predicts that between 2020 to 2030, 25 major economies in the world will face labour shortages worth $10 trillion. For more information, check out the study here. While decentralised work is appealing from the perspective of employers, it is not that attractive from the point of view of employees, as suggested by the data from the research. If work from home is more common than before the pandemic, then why is it not the case for decentralised work as well? Are these two correlated? 

What can we expect to see from the research? 

The team at GCSCC is developing a report and a series of detailed analyses that will cover patterns of working from home from different locations, the kind of work that people do, and differences in their demographics. A collection of descriptive results from the team is available here. For insights from our survey data, follow us on our Instagram page to check out our recent post on the project. Stay tuned for our next post on whether cybersecurity issues have caused shifts in the workplace.