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Microsoft survey: 73% of workers want to be able to work from home after the pandemic

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·Technology Editor
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A woman works in a house while workers are forced to work from home and demand payback for extra home office costs during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sassenheim, Netherlands October 2, 2020. Picture taken October 2, 2020. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
A new Microsoft survey finds that 73% of workers want to continue to work from home in some capacity after the coronavirus pandemic is over. (Image: Reuters/Eva Plevier)

The coronavirus pandemic has upended much of the world’s workforce, turning dining room tables, kitchen counters, and even closets into offices for millions of remote workers.

And while it hasn’t been an easy transition, especially for those with kids or less than ideal living situations, a new Microsoft (MSFT) survey shows the overwhelming majority of workers across the globe want at least some of the benefits of working from home to carry over to post-pandemic life.

According to Microsoft’s first-annual Work Trend Index, which surveyed 30,000 people from 31 countries, 73% of workers want their employers to continue providing flexible remote work options after the world returns to some semblance of normalcy.

“The data is clear. Extreme flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace,” the survey notes. “Employees want control of where, when, and how they work, and expect businesses to provide options. The decisions business leaders make in the coming months to enable flexible work will impact everything from culture and innovation to how organizations attract and retain top talent.”

At the same time, the isolation caused by the pandemic and long-term work-from-home requirements has plenty of workers yearning to meet with their colleagues face to face.

The study found that 67% of workers want more in-person time with their coworkers. Of course, I’d take face-to-face time with my dentist at this point, so those numbers might come down as people go back out into the world again and the allure of in-person interaction fades.

A shift in work culture is already happening

The work from home shift has already pushed some companies to change their entire work culture. Twitter (TWTR), Square (SQ), and REI have all said they will allow their employees to work remotely permanently, while other firms, such as Microsoft, are offering workers the ability to take part in a hybrid work-from-home model, where employees go into the office a few days a week and continue working from home other days.

Not every company is on board with allowing employees to work from home on a permanent or semi-permanent basis, though. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has been particularly outspoken about his distaste for seeing his employees working from home.

During Credit Suisse’s annual Virtual Financial Services Forum in February, Solomon called the current work-from-home situation an “aberration” that the company was “going to fix as fast as possible.” Still, Fox Business reported last week that Solomon may be softening his stance on remote work, which would put him in line with other corporate decision makers.

Microsoft’s survey shows that 66% of corporate decision makers surveyed are thinking of redesigning their offices around a hybrid work-from-home model.

While employees may want the option of working remotely, being forced to do so as a result of the pandemic has had a deleterious impact on many workers. Fifty-five of respondents said they feel overworked, while 39% said they felt exhausted.

Based on anonymized data Microsoft collected via its Teams and Outlook apps, employees are also reaching out to colleagues less than when the pandemic started. From April 2020 through February 2021, Microsoft says the number of people chatting within large Teams channels decreased by 5%, while interactions between individuals and small groups increased 87%.

Microsoft is calling on companies to focus on team building and cut back on employees’ workload, though that might be unrealistic. Its survey results aren’t an anomaly. A recent PWC survey of 133 executives and 1,200 employees based in the U.S. found that 55% of workers would prefer to work from home at least 3 days a week. What’s more, 52% of employees and 34% of executives say they’re more productive working from home

The pandemic still isn’t over, and plenty of people will be working remotely for the foreseeable future. But if companies want to keep their employees happy, they’ll need to appeal to those who want to work remotely — and those who are eager to get back into the office.

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