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Productivity shrinks, but office and remote workers optimistic about new normal

Despite the bleak times caused by Covid-19, study finds a silver lining in the form of accelerating digital transformation and technology investment for remote workers

A study from Skedulo has revealed that six months after the outbreak of Covid-19, people still in traditional office settings as well as deskless/remote workers and mobile employees are finding that they are working longer hours and worry about the risks of being on the frontline or returning to the office.

The 2020 State of work report – defining a new normal amid Covid-19 from the deskless productivity software supplier looked at the challenges faced by both desk-based and deskless workers, as well as how they see their jobs going in the current circumstances.

In October 2020, the company surveyed 1,336 employees, comprising 626 remote workers, 610 desk-based staff and 100 IT executives. Respondents were primarily from four countries: the US (642 respondents), India (262), the UK (235), Australia (188) and nine from other countries. Respondents represented a range of organisational sizes across a spectrum of industries.

Skedulo found that with every job affected by the pandemic in some way, nearly one-third of remote or deskless workers have either been infected with Covid-19 or know someone who has, which is higher than the US national average.

However, executives of both segments of the workforce were found to be working as hard as they can to prevent potential exposure, with many instituting work-from-home policies or enacting new PPE (personal protective equipment) and/or social distancing.

Outside of the health concerns, workers said their jobs have become more difficult (58%), with deskless (31%) and desk-based (38%) staff saying working more hours is the main reason why.

Covid-19 has also had a clear customer-facing impact. Both deskless and desk-based workers reported productivity decreases and field workers said they have been unable to deliver the same level of customer service as they did before the pandemic.

However, employers tried to mitigate these challenges by turning to technology, specifically to assist those on the frontline. Nearly three-quarters of remote workers (73%) said their employers had implemented new technology in reaction to the pandemic, which resulted in 80% of feeling like they had the tools necessary to complete their jobs.

The CIOs who took part in the survey said the most popular technologies their organisations had invested in during the pandemic to support workers in the field were virtual customer appointments tools (78%), new messaging tools (72%) and online appointment scheduling (59%).

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Yet despite some of the misgivings unearthed by the report, Skedulo said there were reasons to be optimistic. It suggested that as technologies such as virtual appointments and online scheduling provide a safe and effective solution, organisations, IT decision-makers and individual employees have been forced to accelerate their digital transformation.

This, it said, has been a silver lining and that adopting these technologies now has not only aided productivity and customer service during the pandemic, but can continue to support growth in the long term.

It also noted that the study showed executives realising that technology was one of the tools helping to combat the effects that workers are feeling. This investment, it argued, could help to boost employee productivity and make it easier for people to complete their jobs. But the company tempered this by saying there was still room for further improvement.

“The results of this study overwhelmingly showed that no matter whether workers are desk-based or deskless, they are feeling the effects and facing the challenges since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020,” said Skedulo CEO Matt Fairhurst. “We are seeing that employees are working more hours than normal, and work has become more difficult due to a few factors, which overall is leading job satisfaction levels to dip. This is concerning for employers and could result in higher levels of burnout.

“CIOs’ investment in technology and decisions around the pandemic have proved beneficial, as workers recognise that their employers are trying hard to protect their health and help ease the difficulties caused by work. Further investments in technology could contribute to overcoming more of the challenges presented by Covid-19. This study reinforces that message and offers reasons to be optimistic about the future of work for both deskless and desk-based workers.”

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