Remote work soars while remote schooling struggles: UserTesting’s COVID-19 Impact Study, July 2020, Part 3
The future of work is probably part-time at home, part-time in an office. About 70% of US workers want to continue working from home at least part-time after the pandemic ends. The reasons: they can focus better at home, but they can network and collaborate better in an office.
Education at home has not been nearly as successful. Most parents say their kids’ education has deteriorated during the pandemic, due to distractions at home and poor preparation on the part of schools. Most college students say they learn better in in-person classes, but at the same time are fearful of attending. Schools and universities should view this as a wake-up call: They urgently need to improve their online experiences, or students may look for alternatives.
These and other insights were produced by the July edition of UserTesting’s COVID-19 tracking study, a combination of interviews and survey conducted in June-July 2020. Due to the large volume of findings, we’ve split the report into three parts:
- In Part 1, published previously, we asked what it will take to get lifestyles back to normal. When will people resume their pre-pandemic buying habits, and what can businesses do to attract them in the meantime?
- In Part 2 we looked at buying habits during and after the pandemic. How well is home delivery working out? How do people feel about it, and will they continue to use it after the economy reopens?
- Today in part 3 we explore the future of work and education at home. Has the pandemic created a permanent shift in work patterns? Can companies ditch their office buildings and go all-remote? How is remote learning working out, and what does that mean for the upcoming school year?
Working from home: sometimes enticing
One of the biggest areas of speculation about long-lasting impacts of the pandemic is the subject of working from home. Now that seemingly everyone knows how to use Zoom and has experienced at-home work, will huge numbers of Americans want to stay away from the office forever? The answer is mixed. Prior to the pandemic, 60% of people commuted to work every day. Post-pandemic, only about 20% want to keep doing that. Most of the others want to come into work part of the time, while almost a third want to work from home full time.
In our interviews, many workers seemed almost to be negotiating in their heads with their employers. They balanced the benefits of face-to-face interaction and teamwork against the opportunity to focus on knowledge work while at home, and the time they save by not commuting.
Here are typical workers describing their thoughts on home versus office. Note how well developed their ideas are—it's something they’ve clearly been thinking about a lot.
What it means for employers
If they have their way, about 70% of workers would like to work from home at least part-time. Companies that can offer this sort of flexible work schedules will have a better chance of attracting the most talented employees. But in some ways this is the worst of all possible worlds for employers. It means they need to continue to pay for office space even as many employees use it only part-time. How we structure work—and allocate office space—for this sort of distributed workforce is still to be determined. It’s a big challenge, but also a big opportunity for companies to create happier, more productive teams. The good news is that employees themselves already have a lot of ideas on how to do it. Employers should engage employees in a dialog on this subject now.
Online schooling: not a happy experience
In contrast to the remote work and shopping experiences, remote learning has been a source of frustration for most people who were forced into it by the pandemic. More than 60% of parents with K-12 age children reported that their kids have been taught online during the pandemic, while another 30% of kids were homeschooled. About 14% have received no schooling at all.
Ratings of the quality of education during the pandemic were generally negative. About 60% of adults with K-12 kids said their in-pandemic education was lower quality than before the pandemic. 23% said it was about the same, and about 17% said it was better.
The reports were not overwhelmingly bad, but there’s a lot of frustration. In our interviews, many parents reported that it was difficult to keep their children focused when they were at home, and that schools were poorly prepared to transition to remote teaching. Many parents also struggled mightily with balancing work and schooling during the day.
See parents discuss the quality of education during the pandemic:
College students reported similar issues. About two-thirds said they had switched from in-person to online classes during the pandemic:
Most students also said they prefer in-person classes to online ones:
In our interviews, students said in-person classes are better because they give more opportunity for questions and discussions with professors.
However, there’s a catch. Despite their preference for in-person learning, many college students said they would be fearful of attending classes in person if they had to do it tomorrow. About a third reported very high levels of fear, half were moderately fearful, and about 20% reported low levels of fear. That puts attending in-person classes at about the same fear level as working in an office or getting a haircut.
Hear college students describe their fears of in-person education:
What it means for schools: a wake-up call
Schools have a huge user experience challenge. If in-person classes are not practical this fall, online instruction will need to be much better organized. K-12 schools should be urgently seeking out the 17% of parents who said their children’s online class experiences were better than in person. What made those parents more satisfied? Our interviews suggest that their kids were going to schools that handled online teaching especially well.
The same thing applies to colleges. About 20% of college students said they preferred online classes. Is that just because they like the flexibility, or did their schools do something to make online teaching work better?
Education in the United States is dominated by long-standing institutions. There’s much less turnover than in business, which can make those institutions slow to change. A crisis like the pandemic creates intense pressure for alternatives. If schools can’t adapt, it’s likely that ongoing dissatisfaction will cause many students and parents to look for alternative options that can handle remote teaching better.
UserTesting’s COVID-19 Impact Study uses a mixed methodology to give deep insights on public issues and attitudes. It includes a quantitative survey of 1,100 US adults, fielded at the beginning of July; paired with self-guided video interviews of about 60 people, conducted in June through the UserTesting platform. The quant survey results were used to select video clips that represented typical survey responses. So the quant survey tells you what typical people said, and the interviews tell you why they said it and how they felt about it.