A major survey of white-collar workers around the world by Barco, global leader in visualisation and collaboration solutions, has revealed surprising findings of employee expectations for the workplace in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study – which surveyed 1,750 employees around the world (250 each from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, India, and United Arab Emirates) through global research panel provider Dynata – found that only 16% of employees in Asia want to continue to work from home full-time after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. 63% surveyed said they enjoy working from home less now than they did at the start of the pandemic, citing challenges in collaborating with colleagues, struggling to contribute to meetings and missing the social side of office life as the main reasons for wanting to return to the office.
Instead, employees want a hybrid workplace model, where most of their time is spent in the office but they have the flexibility and freedom to work from home when it works best for them or suits the type of work they need to do. The survey found that among Asian respondents, the ideal balance on average 3 days in the office, with a maximum of 2 days a week working remotely.
There was significant demand from workers for their employers to invest in better facilities, and particularly technologies, to enable this hybrid working balance. The most desired investment by employees was for better video conferencing technologies, which 39% of the 500 employees regionally named as an investment priority. This was perhaps unsurprising, given more than 8 in 10 Asian employees said they use video conferencing rooms in their office more than once a week, with 43% using them every day or more.
Working from home has lost its sparkle
The survey results suggest many have suffered as a result of being separated from their colleagues, both emotionally and in their work. 51% regionally said they have found working from home less fun as time has passed. 39% said they miss office social life and found it harder to collaborate when working remotely. 31% said they found it difficult to contribute to meetings, while 29% said they get easily distracted at home.
Meeting changes mean the office will need a redesign
The study shows that most employees think that we are already returning to something resembling normality after COVID-19, with the number of remote-only meetings expected to drop significantly and hybrid meetings set to become the norm.
The findings also suggested that huddle spaces might be out, after a huge trend towards these informal meeting areas in previous years. 54% of Asian respondents said they prefer formal meeting rooms now, and 76% prefer scheduled meetings over impromptu ones.
Surprisingly, employees seemed very starkly opposed to the idea of spending more time in co-working spaces (51%) – a trend that many had predicted as a result of the pandemic. Most employees still prefer to spend most of their time at large corporate headquarters, albeit now with more flexibility to work from home some of the time.
Video conferencing is the heartbeat of business collaboration
Asked where they would most like to see their employers invest, respondents chose video conferencing equipment for use in meeting rooms as their preferred destination for new investment in the future. The findings may seem surprising at first glance, until you look at how prevalent the use of video conferencing technology has become and the fundamental role it now plays in collaboration, communication and productivity for a digitally driven workforce.
After standard meeting rooms, video conferencing rooms are the most commonly used spaces in the office. 83% of Asian respondents said they use video conferencing rooms at least once a week, with 22% using them every day on average.
The laptop is ever-more important for employee communication and engagement
The ‘Bring Your Own Meeting’ trend that was growing before COVID-19 – where employees not only want to use their own devices (Bring Your Own Device), but also their own preferred conferencing solutions – has continued apace during the pandemic. Indeed, the results of the study show that the laptop is now the single most important thing in most employees working lives: 82% of Asian respondents said they couldn’t bear to be parted from it while at work.
58% of employees prefer to host video calls from their laptop, compared to 17% who prefer in-room systems and 19% who like to use their smartphone. Despite the growth of in-room camera use (traditional in-room conferencing systems and USB-based SWAPs) from 30% to 40% in one year, 65% of employees still use their laptop camera even when they are in a meeting room. Clearly, however, this is a sub-par experience because more than 65% of respondents complained of camera malfunctions during meetings.
Technology is expected to drive continued meeting improvements
When you look at what employees want to see from future meetings, it’s clear that there are high expectations for technology-driven improvements. The biggest priorities are technologies that improve efficiency and usability and streamline workflows. Close to 70% of Asian respondents said apps for joining a video conference in one click should be available within the next year if they aren’t already. Meanwhile, voice recognition technology, software for remote co-creation and Instagram-style filters for video conferencing are all expected by most people within just two years.
This underlines the need for meeting technologies to facilitate more connectivity between physical and virtual participants in the future. Indeed, more than six in ten people believed that a lack of in-person interaction was one of the key reasons for feeling less connected to their colleagues, and 63% said that collaborating remotely with colleagues, clients and others does not come naturally. If technology can help to tackle this and enable hybrid and virtual meetings that foster better connections between participants, we will see meeting quality and employee engagement continue to rise.
Gan Ta Loong, Vice President APAC ProAV, Barco said, “The outbreak of coronavirus worldwide has fundamentally shaken up the business landscape and changed the way we work. While we were already preparing for the digital future of work, driven by mobile connectivity, cognitive tools and cloud, COVID-19 accelerated the transformation in Asia and globally – pushing enterprises to embrace a truly hybrid model of remote and in-office working for their workforce, and increase business resiliency, by embracing digital transformation at unprecedented speed.” Gan continued, “For companies with a mainly office-based workforce, COVID-19 has been the greatest and fastest shift in ways of working that we’ve ever seen. While the world of work will never be the same again, the immediate reaction to the pandemic – that office life as we know it would end and people would move to universal remote working for the foreseeable future – already looks to be an overreaction.
Technology will be crucial to achieving the new normal in remote and hybrid meetings. The message comes through loud and clear from our survey: of all the things office workers want their companies to invest in, collaboration technologies are the top of the list. To survive, rebuild and eventually thrive again in the post-pandemic world, businesses will need to invest in new technologies, redesign or at least reconfigure their office spaces, and give their employees the tools they need to work in the best way possible, no matter where they are located or how they choose to connect. If they can make these changes quickly and effectively, they will be ready for the future and ready to deal with the challenges we all face over the coming months and years, and to seize the opportunities that will surely follow.”