William H. Dutton and Patricia Esteve-Gonzalez
Global Cybersecurity Capacity Centre, University of Oxford
A growing number of studies are documenting the shift to working from home (WFH) in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. McKinsey & Company’s American Opportunity Survey supports the importance of this shift and claims that “Americans are embracing flexible work”. Our own survey research reinforces this shift to WFH, while finding that there are multiple models of working – rather than no one preferred mode, with some employees working from central offices, from home, in hybrid online and in-person ways, and from decentralised offices. That said, the major trends have been toward hybrid and WFH approaches to working and away from a central or decentralised office. Whether this shift remains as a new normal is a big question, as well as why these trends have been sustained since the height of the pandemic.
Future trends will depend in part on the beliefs and attitudes about working from home. Here we address questions about these opinions based on our exploratory study on cybersecurity across workplaces. Our research team at the Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre (GCSCC) has worked in collaboration with a tech-enabled survey solution provider GrapeData to field a global survey. The survey data examined differences in cybersecurity issues across different workplaces, including shifts to and from working at home, the office, hybrid offices, and decentralised work centres over time. Joint with GrapeData, our global online survey ran from mid-June to early September 2022, yielding responses from 7,330 internet users across 133 countries. We targeted respondents who were likely to be working and asked them about their workplaces and cybersecurity issues prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, during the pandemic, and currently. Nearly 90 percent of the respondents indicated that is was possible for them to work from home. This blog is one of a series that will describe some of the initial descriptive results from this survey.
The Upside: Productivity
Close to 60 percent of respondents indicated that they were “more productive” WFH. This was twice the percentage (30%) of respondents who said they were more productive in the office and six times the percent (11%) saying they were more productive in a decentralised office. Of course, this is a perception. Determining the actual productivity of work in different settings is far beyond the scope of our study. But beliefs are important and appear to be one of the major motivations behind the holding power of WFH.
Downsides: Feeling Distracted, Lonely, and Out of Touch
That said, in some areas, larger proportions of respondents saw problems with WFH. Far more respondents felt that they had “more distractions” at home, felt “lonely”, and that they “lost touch with people important to work”. Many anecdotal accounts of barking dogs, children, and other family members interrupting a video call or work reinforce concerns over distractions. Other stories about students working alone in their dorm room, or an employee alone at home have focused on feeling lonely. And missing the water cooler moment at the office is a common rationale for moving back to the office.
Issues Anywhere: Communication, Technical, and Privacy
Respondents did not see WFH being particularly better or worse in relation some work issues. About a quarter (20-25%) of respondents felt that WFH carried with it “too many problems with communication”. However, nearly as many (about 15%) felt that there were communication problems in a centralized or decentralized office setting. Similarly, about a fifth (19%) of respondents felt that they “experience many problems with technology” when WFH. This is not a high proportion and over 10-15 percent experience technology problems in a centralized or decentralized office setting. Finally, while privacy has been an expected victim of WFH, the largest proportion (25%) of respondents associate this problem with a decentralized office setting with 18-20% or fewer citing privacy as a problem in the centralized office or WFH.
The Perceptual Logic Behind Hybrid Working
Given this pattern of perceptions, it is possible to see the logic of hybrid working and WFH – both of which have increased since before the pandemic. WFH exploits the perceived productivity benefits of WFH, while hybrid work also involves travel to the office that might address the downsides of WFH, such as helping individuals to stay in touch with work and colleagues.
These are only perceptions of people across the world. The actual impact of WFH as compared with other working situations will be far more difficult to gauge. That said, this pattern of perceptions might well be driving the rise of WFH and hybrid working in nations across the world.
Many More Questions
The description of these beliefs and attitudes about working from home raise as many questions as they answer. We’ll be digging into the multivariate analyses of this dataset to determine whether those with different experiences in different workplaces develop contrasting opinions on the advantages of working from home and in other contexts. How does experience working from home change the beliefs and attitudes about the benefits of this setting? How do these opinions vary across age cohorts, genders, or other demographic categories or based on occupations? We look forward to reporting our findings as our work progresses.
See a recent overview from GrapeData on LinkedIn.
 McKinsey & Company (2022), ‘Is Remote Work Effective: We Finally Have the Data’, 23 June: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/real-estate/our-insights/americans-are-embracing-flexible-work-and-they-want-more-of-it
 Rather than a random sample, the exploratory survey process enabled us to find those in work to identify possible patterns and trends.