September 28, 2020

Udemy In Depth: The Portrait of a Pandemic at Work

Employees accustomed to working in an office with co-workers, socializing in and out of working hours, and taking business trips, continue to be isolated at home and connecting online only. Others are being furloughed or laid-off as companies make difficult decisions to keep afloat. Adding to this, employee concerns over personal safety and financial stability are fostering insecurity about their ability to function and flourish.

To better understand how the continued pandemic is impacting the workforce and how employees and leaders alike can navigate these uncertain times, Udemy surveyed over 1,000 full-time U.S. office workers to create the report, “Udemy In Depth: The Portrait of a Pandemic at Work,” and discover what working from home is really like.

How a Pandemic is Redefining Work

As COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise, many are realizing that this new reality is not ending anytime soon. Our research indicates the pandemic and resulting economic uncertainty is greatly draining employee optimism. The majority (72%) worry this new reality will have a long-lasting negative impact on their quality of life – dramatically diminishing their future prospects. Meanwhile, most respondents (54%) also worry that their hours and pay will be reduced, or worse, that they will lose their jobs. Not only are employees worried about their futures, but the majority (58%) say they are working harder now than before the pandemic.

What’s more, trust in leadership is ebbing, with most employees suspecting employers of using current economic uncertainty to downsize their workforce (63%), transition to an automated workforce (61%), or relocate their employees and organizations (52%).

“Trust is social capital and the World Bank has recognized the essential nature of building social capital to achieve economic development. The same is true within a corporation. High levels of internal trust result in high levels of creativity and problem solving. Every leader has the job of creating a culture of high trust within and high trust with customers.” – Udemy Leadership Instructor, Lawrence Miller

The Many Hats of the Remote Worker

Working full-time (and spending most free-time) at home has introduced new headaches for couples living together. Established rules and routines of shared responsibilities have eroded, increasing family stress and discord. Most people (75%) report that they have been working harder than their significant other to juggle work and life at home. This is especially true for working parents – particularly moms. Ninety-two percent of moms report that the burden to balance work and home life falls mostly on them, compared to 52% for dads.

What’s more, 53% of moms, versus 38% of dads, say they work harder now than before the pandemic. As working families navigate back-to-school uncertainty, these concerns are likely to only grow.

“I find it critical to regularly check-in with other moms. By PHONE. Not by video conference. And not while multi-tasking or making dinner or helping with homework. I set aside 30 minutes each week to talk with another mom friend. This conversation provides the necessary ventilation we all need to ease stress, and feel more deeply connected and seen.” – Mom of two and Udemy Leadership Instructor, Priya Nalkur

The Weird World of Working From Home

Working without pants (37%), taking calls in the bathroom (36%), caring for pets (57%). Welcome to the bizarre realities of our new normal. Casual wear has taken on a new meaning and distractions with this new population of at-home employees reign supreme. While employees who are accustomed to working remotely full-time already have methods to avoid distractions, newer remote workers find it difficult to maintain focus at home. Most (86%) simply have frustrating and distracting issues with technology.

But others are struggling with their own personal habits, confessing that cooking and eating (61%) and video games (44%) are major distractions. What’s more, many confess to indulging in more counterproductive behavior: with almost half (45%) working from bed and almost a third (29%) drinking alcohol while on the job.

“It can be difficult to stay focused while your TV and comfortable couch are tempting you to skip work, especially after being on calls all morning. Take breaks and allow yourself some balance in your day. Practicing mindfulness, starting the day with yoga in the park, singing along to your favorite artist, or perfecting your chocolate chip recipe can all be moments in your day, the key is to not allow them to take up your entire workday.” – Udemy Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Instructor, Alicia Paz MA

A Renewed Focus on Skills

While many struggle to focus, our research reveals many employees working remotely for the first time are learning techniques to become more efficient and disciplined. A third (37%) have spent time seeking additional training in professional or role-specific skills. Two-thirds (67%) of respondents aspire to better themselves, using the extra time (with no commutes and fewer social engagements) to learn new skills or enhance existing ones.

In terms of “how” employees want to learn, they are looking for the most efficient modes of learning in a transformed world. Most overwhelmingly preferred taking an online course (49%), followed by company-sponsored professional development (23%) with traditional classroom or going back to a brick-and-mortar school (13%) ranking last.

“To maximize productivity, it’s important to create time boundaries. This is especially crucial as we work remotely and lack the physical boundaries between work and home. Pick a stopping time every day to ensure that 1) your work doesn’t bleed into all aspects of your life and 2) you’re more productive because you’ve given yourself a defined period of time to get things done.” – Udemy Time-Management and Productivity Instructor, Alexis Haselberger

A Return to “Business as Usual?”

The COVID-19 Pandemic and economic downturn are transforming how and where we work. And with only 41% of respondents anticipating workspaces to enhance employee health and safety once they reopen, many are in no rush to return to the office.

Instead, the workforce is adjusting with these dramatically changing times and learning their personal upsides and downsides of working full-time from home. Time will tell which changes brought on by the pandemic will prove permanent, and even preferable, to our old normal.

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