Smartsheet today published more findings from a survey it commissioned Engine Insight to conduct. It polled more than 2,500 people working from home in the US (1,000), UK (1,004) and Australia (502) between April 8-15 2020. The respondents were all over 18 and working from home during the COVID-19 crisis. In Australia, the findings are quite stark. 93% of Generation Z and 90% of Millennials are reporting difficulty working remotely as a result of COVID-19. In the UK those statistics are only slightly lower at 89% and 91%.
Have companies found out how to work?
It seems that having the tools to work remotely, such as video conferencing (not just Zoom) does not solve the problem. Generation Z cites video conferencing as a reason they did not complete their work. In the UK, 64% of Generation Z and 61% of Millennials felt it was an issue. It is not just an issue for the younger generation. In Australia, 61% of workers see it as an issue compared to the US (44%) and the UK (52%).
Despite the increase in video conferencing, people also feel less well informed than when they worked in the office. Again, across all regions, 70% of Gen Z and the Millenials felt most in the dark and less well informed. According to the respondents, over 75% feel less well connected, again Gen Z and Millenials were highest at 81%.
This communication challenge is not just related to management-employee communication but also between colleagues. Perhaps surprisingly, despite their use of social media outside of work, the majority across all regions are still using email as their communication platform.
- US Generation Z (73%).
- US Millennials (71%).
- UK Generation Z (50%).
- UK Millennials (67%).
- Australian Generation Z (52%).
- Australian Millennials (70%).
Smartsheet CEO Mark Mader commented: “This research shows that the key to helping remote workers cope with the current circumstance, and thriving in the longer-term, goes far beyond simply connecting people and teams through video-based technology. To be effective, people need to stay deeply connected to their work and the work of their teams. They also need context, structure, tracking, and visibility into their work. Providing those things is more important now than ever.”
Are we changing the way we work?
There were three other interesting findings relating to how individuals are trying to work under the lockdown. The first was that it seems collecting information is harder. It is no longer possible to shout across the room for an answer. Nearly half of younger workers are finding it hard to find the information that they require.
- US Generation Z (44%), US Millennials (42%).
- UK Generation Z (36%), UK Millennials (43%).
- Australian Generation Z (31%), Australian Millennials (53%).
- Australian Gen X, Baby Boomers (36%).
The discrepancy in the higher Gen Z statistics of the US to the UK and Australia is interesting, but without further research hard to fathom. It may be linked to how education is completed in that country with perhaps greater reliance on the internet.
Another interesting factor was that more than a third of respondents are finding it challenging to get status updates on a project. It is a problem that Smartsheets believes it can solve. It means there is still a huge opportunity out there for its work management and PPM solutions. This problem is not confined to the younger generation either. 36% of US respondents find it harder to get project status updates, in the UK it is 49%, and highest in Australia, 50%.
As an adjunct to that employees, especially the younger generations, find it hard to prioritise tasks. The lack of constant supervision in an office might be a factor. Not that they want to have overbearing management, but the instant guidance and response that coaches and managers deliver is now missing. The statistics highlight how many found it difficult to stay organised and prioritise work:
- US Generation Z and US Millennials (45%).
- UK Generation Z (46%).
- UK Millennials (55%).
- Australian Generation Z (31%).
- Australian Millennials (53%).
Enterprise Times: What does this mean
There were some more nuanced findings around gender in the full report. However, what the report fails to look at is across industries. This could have provided some interesting insights. Many software companies, for example, have been using Slack and other tools for years to help communication. While they are also challenged by working from home, it seems that many software companies have not been impacted too severely. For example, FinancialForce recently delivered a major update, on its target date, despite many of its developers working from home. Other software companies are implementing regular social meetings during conferences near the end of the day to build teamwork.
COVID-19 is not just changing how people are working now, but it may do so in the future. Companies and individuals are undergoing some significant changes to their work and home life. It is changing attitudes as Robert Glazer, founder and CEO of the global performance marketing agency, Acceleration Partners highlighted in a recent Forbes article. Technology is not the immaculate answer as video conferencing is showing. It also needs business processes, information and above all people. One of the areas omitted from the survey is the mental impact on people during the lockdown. This is potentially significant. A fact called out in an interesting article by Tess Brigham. She flags the mental health risks to Millenials, a demographics she practices in as a psychotherapist.
Organisations need to find a better way of ensuring the wellbeing of both employee and their business. A combination of technology and process will help. As the research shows, there are many organisations that have not got there yet. In this context, Mader’s comments make perfect sense, and business leaders should note them.