Offices are opening around the country, but this is how many people will actually go back

After a three month lockdown, New York City, which was the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., has begun to allow companies to reopen their offices as a part of phase two of its four-part reopening plan.

Phase two, which began on Monday, is a big deal for New York, a city that was completely taken over by social distancing measures. Phase two means that outdoor dining and some in-store shopping can begin, as well as hair salons, barbershops, and real estate firms allowed to open up.

While companies are allowed to return to offices, most are not rushing to do so right away. Some companies are keeping offices closed altogether, while others are opening at reduced occupancy and leaving the decision up to individual employees whether they want to remain working from home or not.

This question of whether or not employees would like to remain working remotely is an important one as offices around the country continue to open up.

While remote work has gained popularity as online communication tools became more accessible, not every company was equipped to work remotely. In fact, in a new survey, 80% of respondents reported that their employers did not have a remote work program in place before the pandemic began. This national survey, conducted by edtech firm MindEdge/Skye Learning,  asked 828 remote workers and managers their opinions on when they think they will return to the office.

When will we return to the office?

Employers from JPMorgan to Twitter, which has already told employers they can work from home forever, have decided to not send their employees back to work yet.

While reasons for remaining closed vary, many companies are hesitant to return to working in an office due to worries of another wave of infections. Other companies are concerned about commuting –if social distancing is enacted on public transportation, won’t more people drive and others have to wait in line for trains and buses?

Among workers and manger, 29% expect to remain working remotely full-time even after businesses resume “normal” operations, while another 27% expect to work remotely at least part-time, and 35% expect they will return to their old workplace on a full-time basis.

Among solely managers, 36% expect that they will continue to work remotely full-time and 29% expect to return full-time to their old workplaces.

“The survey suggests that this shift to remote work during the crisis has brought with it a new set of challenges and opportunities,” said Jefferson Flanders, CEO of MindEdge Learning. “Businesses need to find creative ways to support workers struggling with setting boundaries between the personal and professional. Regardless of when Americans return to the office, many employers will find an altered workplace with a greater reliance on digital communication. They would be well served by planning for that changed landscape now.”

Who thinks remote work is easier?

The professionals that were new to remote work reported having somewhat more difficulty adjusting to working at home. Among those with no previous remote work experience, 34% said that working remotely made their jobs harder and 21% said it made their jobs easier. Professionals who were 45 years old or older are more likely to say that remote work has made their job harder, rather than easier.

Among respondents who reported that remote work has made their jobs harder, 44% blamed the increased number of meetings and phone calls, 37% reported they had problems with communication technology, 33% cites distractions at home, and 23% said their difficulties come from uncertainty about when to end work for the day.

Among those who said that remote work made their job easier, 66% said the increased flexibility helps, 59% credited the lack of or shortened commute, while 46% said they have fewer interruptions while working remotely.

While 80% of respondents reported never having remote work programs in place, only a little over half of respondents said that they received training through their employers in how to work remotely. For those who did not receive the training, 31% believed that is would have been somewhat to very helpful to them.

How has remote work affected mental health?

Remote work definitely has healthy shares of both pros and cons, which is also apparent in its affects on professionals’ mental health. According to the survey, 50% of respondents think remote work has had a negative impact on their emotional or mental health, with 13% reporting a very negative impact.

The negative impact is even higher among parents with children who are in school, with 58% (compared to 50%) of parents reporting that working from home has had a negative impact on their emotional or mental health, and 18% reporting a very negative impact.

Overall, only 12% of the respondents reported that working remotely has had a positive effect on their mental health.

Survey respondents report trying a wide range of strategies for dealing with the increased stress of working at home. When asked to choose from a pre-selected list of stress-reducing activities:

While some picked up quarantine hobbies, others tried a wide range of strategies for dealing with the increased stress of working from home, most popular being going outside for a walk or to get some fresh air (51%). Other strategies include catching up on movies or television (43%), taking breaks to spend time with family (31%), cooking or baking (29%), and running (28%).

Jennifer Fabiano is an SEO reporter at Ladders.