When COVID-19 started spreading throughout the United States in March 2020, many businesses shifted employees to working remotely as a way to help reduce the spread of the virus and keep everyone safe.

Almost a year later, many remain working out of their kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms, and it’s been estimated that over half of all office employees will work remotely in 2022.

With vaccinations rolling out across the country, many executives are now deciding if and when to have their staff return to working in person. Is it safe to have employees return now? How about after they receive the vaccine? Do people even want to return to work in person?

To better understand how employees feel about returning to work in person and what employers’ plans are, we surveyed 1,000 adults in the U.S. who worked in person before the pandemic but shifted to remote work once it hit and are still working remotely now.

Key Findings

  • 49.2% of respondents would be uncomfortable going back to work before all employees have gotten the vaccine
  • 53.2% of employers will require employees to get a vaccine before returning to work
  • 24.0% of employees would quit if their employer required them to return to work in person before they were comfortable
  • 62.7% think all employees should be tested for COVID-19 before returning to work in person
  • 54.8% of people prefer working remotely
  • 41.7% of respondents would take a pay cut to continue working remotely
  • 41.5% of respondents say they are more productive working remotely while another 30.3% say their productivity is on par with working in person
  • When asked if their employers have communicated a plan for when they will return to work, employees said:
    • There is a specific date for when they will return (19.6%)
    • There is a plan to return to work but the date depends on the pandemic (42.1%)
    • They will be working remotely permanently (12.6%)
    • They have not heard an update about if or when they will return (25.7%)
  • Of the employees that have a specific date for when they will return, here is the timing:
    • Q1 2021 (33.9%)
    • Q2 2021 (23.6%)
    • Q3 2021 (22.0%)
    • Q4 2021 (9.2%)
    • 2022 or later (11.3%)

Half of employees would be uncomfortable going back to work before all employees are vaccinated

Despite having two COVID-19 vaccines with efficacy of over 90% in the United States, it has been estimated that the general public won’t receive them until mid-summer.

Accordingly, many large companies—such as Facebook, Google, and Apple—won’t have employees return to work in person until June 2021 or later at the earliest.

As we approach a year since the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the U.S., and with widespread vaccination just months away, many employers may be considering when it makes sense to have employees return to the office.

To get a sense of how people feel about returning to work in person, we asked respondents if they would be uncomfortable doing so before all employees were vaccinated.

As shown, just under half of employees would be uncomfortable going back to work in person before everyone is vaccinated. Though vaccinations are underway across the country, new COVID-19 cases are still at all-time highs and the death toll continues to climb.

We next wanted to get a sense of whether employers have been telling their workforce if they would be required to get a vaccine before returning to work in person.

Of the employees whose employers have told them whether they will require a vaccine or not (53.6% of all respondents), slightly more said their employers will require it (53.2%) than those that will not (46.8%).

Nearly 25% of employees would quit if their employer made them go back to work before they were comfortable; 34% unsure

With the death toll climbing towards 400,000 in the U.S. alone, it is evident that COVID-19 is a dangerous disease.

Companies need to be very careful about when they have employees return to the office. Doing it too soon or without a well-thought-out plan could put lives at risk.

Our next question asked employees if they would quit if they were required to return to work in person before they were comfortable.

As shown, just under 25% of employees would quit if they were put in this situation, while another 33.6% are unsure what the would do.

Many people have spent the past 10 months wearing masks, social distancing, and taking other precautions to avoid contracting the disease.

With vaccination in sight, many of our respondents seem to think their jobs are not worth risking their lives and, subsequently, if they have them, the lives of their families.

Encouragingly, it seems like many employers will be lenient on if and when employees will have to return.

As you can see in the chart above, nearly three quarters of respondents think they will have some say in when they return to work. Only 26.1% think they will be required to return once the workplace opens back up.

Nearly 2 of 3 think employees should be tested for COVID-19 before returning to work in person

Our survey shows that nearly half of people would prefer that everyone receives a vaccine before returning to work in person, but how about getting tested for COVID-19?

An even larger portion of respondents, 62.7%, think all employees should be tested before returning to work in person.

Just having one COVID-positive person in an office could cause widespread infection given how quickly viruses can spread in an office environment.

Even if employers aren’t requiring workers to get the vaccine before returning to work, most of our respondents expect them to enforce some kind of testing protocol to help protect everyone.

74% of employers haven’t chosen a date for when people will return to work in person

We also wanted to figure out whether or not employers have plans for if and when their employees will return to work.

Our next question asked respondents if their employers have gave them any information regarding this.

As shown, 19.6% of respondents have a specific date for when they will return, 42.1% say there is a plan to return but they don’t know exactly when yet, 12.6% will be working remotely permanently, and 25.7% have not yet heard a plan.

Next we asked those who said they have a specific date for when they will return to work in person when that is.

The plurality of respondents, 33.9%, say they will return to work during this first quarter of the year. This is surprising given it’s unlikely that most of the general population will have the chance to get vaccinated in the next two months.

After that, 23.6% of this group of respondents will return to work in person next quarter, 22.0% will return in the third quarter, 9.2% will return in the fourth quarter, and 11.3% won’t return until 2022 or beyond.

55% of employees prefer working remotely

Given the massive shift to remote work by companies throughout the nation, we wanted to ask our respondents how they felt about their new work environments.

First, we simply asked if they prefer working remotely to working in person.

Surprisingly, the majority of respondents, 54.8%, prefer working remotely, while only 28.4% prefer working in person.

To figure out why, we also asked what people enjoy the most about working remotely.

As shown, the plurality of respondents, 27.9%, enjoy not having to commute to work. Given that the average commute time is around 26 minutes each way, the average employee is saving around an hour a day in commute time. This allows employees to have for more time to spend with family, decompress, workout, or do whatever else it is they like to do in their free time.

Other popular answers including being able to spend more time at home (14.3%), being more comfortable at home (12.2%), and having more flexibility in work schedules (10.6%).

We also asked respondents what they disliked the most about working from home.

It wasn’t too surprising to see that the most popular answer was having less social interaction/being lonely.

Many people working from home may regularly have no in-person social interaction throughout the day, especially if they live by themselves. Social isolation has been shown to lead to depression, poor sleep, premature mortality, and more.

Related, 14.6% of respondents indicated that having a hard time collaborating with coworkers was their biggest complaint.

The rest of the respondents were pretty evenly split among the other options for what they disliked the most.

69% will consider remote roles moving forward

Now that many people have gotten a taste of what the remote work life is like, we were curious whether they would look for remote roles in the future.

69.1% of respondents will either look mostly for remote roles (32.3%) or will consider both remote and in-person roles (36.8%). Only 19.2% said they would look mostly look for in-person roles.

Just how much do some people prefer working remotely to working in person? That’s what our next question tries to quantify.

42% would take a pay cut to continue working remotely

We next asked respondents if they would be willing to take a pay cut to continue working remotely.

As shown, 41.7% of respondents would take a pay cut to continue working remotely, while another 19.6% are unsure. A large portion of the workforce enjoys the benefits of working remotely so much that they would be willing to accept reduced pay to keep them.

Over 70% say they are as productive or more productive working remotely now than they were working in person

Our next question was designed to better understand how workers’ productivity working remotely compares to working in person.

We asked respondents to compare their productivity when they first shifted to remote work as well as now to when they were working in person.

When they first shifted to remote work, 39.9% of respondents indicated that they were less productive and 27.9% said their productive was about the same as working in person. The remaining 32.3% said their productivity improved.

Since then, the data indicate that many people’s productivity working remotely has improved. Now that they’ve had more time to adjust, only 28.3% say they are less productive, 30.3% say their productivity is about the same, and 41.5% say they are more productive.

This increase in productivity is likely due to people getting more comfortable with working from home as well as teams developing systems and processes that work better in a remote working environment.

Our final set of questions also indicate that employers may have been instrumental in setting their employees up for success.

Most employers have done a good job setting their employees up for remote working success

We next asked respondents how prepared their employers were for transitioning to remote work.

As shown, 65.1% of respondents said their employers were either “very prepared” or “somewhat prepared” for the transition to remote work. Additionally, only 10.1% of respondents said their employers were “very unprepared.”

We also asked respondents if they have access to the necessary technologies to make working remotely efficient and effective.

Just under half of respondents, 48.7%, said they have access to everything they need. Another 37.3% said they have access to most things they need.

These results, along with many of the other results of our survey, are promising for the feasibility of longterm remote work or, at least, a hybrid model where employees work some days from home—something that is gaining popularity with companies.

With a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel in sight for the nation, companies are deciding how to best handle their staff who have been thrust into a new work environment for the past 10 months.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has been detrimental in countless ways, one positive is that it has caused executives to reconsider if the traditional in-person working environment is the only way to operate. Our survey results indicate that employees are happier working from home and are just as, if not more, productive than working in person.

The companies that more quickly shift to what may be the new norm of remote or hybrid work models may attract more talent, have more satisfied employees, and save a few bucks in the process.

Full Survey Results

Has your employer communicated a plan for if and when employees will return to work in person?

  • Yes, we have a specific date for when we will return to work in person. (19.6%)
  • Yes, there is a plan in place but we don’t have a specific date for when we will return. It depends on the COVID-19 pandemic. (42.1%)
  • Yes, we will be working remotely permanently. (12.6%)
  • No, I haven not heard any update on if or when we will. (25.7%)

When is the date when employees will return to work in person? (Asked only to those who said their employers have announced a date when they will return to work)

  • The first quarter of 2021 (33.9%)
  • The second quarter of 2021 (23.6%)
  • The third quarter of 2021 (22.0%)
  • The fourth quarter of 2021 (9.2%)
  • 2022 or later (11.3%)

Would you be uncomfortable going back to work in person before all employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

  • Yes (49.2%)
  • No (30.9%)
  • Unsure (19.9%)

Will your employer require all workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine before returning to in-person work?

  • Yes, they will require it (28.5%)
  • No, they will not require it (25.1%)
  • Unsure/they have not told us yet (46.4%)

Do you think you will have the option of continuing to work remotely or returning to work in person?

  • Yes, I will be able to choose when or if I want to go back (31.2%)
  • Somewhat, I will be able to choose when I go back up until a certain date (42.7%)
  • No, I will be required to go back to work once the workplace opens back up (26.1%)

If your employer required you to return to work in person before you were comfortable, would you quit your job?

  • Yes (24.0%)
  • No (42.4%)
  • Unsure (33.6%)

Do you think all employees should be tested for COVID-19 before coming back to work in person?

  • Yes (62.7%)
  • No (20.1%)
  • Unsure (17.3%)

Do you prefer working remotely to working in person?

  • Yes, I prefer working remotely (54.8%)
  • No, I prefer working in person (28.4%)
  • I have no preference (16.8%)

Will you look for a remote job in the future after experiencing it during the pandemic?

  • Yes, I will look mostly for remote roles (32.2%)
  • No, I will look mostly for in-person roles (19.2%)
  • I will consider both remote and in-person roles (36.8%)
  • Unsure (11.9%)

Would you take a pay cut to continue working remotely?

  • Yes (41.7%)
  • No (38.7%)
  • Unsure (19.6%)

What is your favorite part of working remotely?

  • Spending less time commuting (27.9%)
  • Being able to spend more time at home (14.3%)
  • Not having to dress up for work (7.9%)
  • Being more comfortable in my home (12.2%)
  • Being able to work from wherever I want (9.8%)
  • Having fewer distractions (5.0%)
  • Having all virtual meetings (4.1%)
  • Having more flexibility in my schedule (10.6%)
  • Less social interaction (6.0%)
  • Other (2.2%)

What do you dislike the most about working remotely?

  • Less social interaction/being lonely (24.1%)
  • Having a hard time collaborating with coworkers (14.6%)
  • Being in my home for the majority of the day (11.4%)
  • Having more distractions (13.9%)
  • Being less motivated (8.7%)
  • Struggling with separating my work and home life (11.2%)
  • Technology problems (WiFi going out, not having access to things needed for work, etc.) (11.5%)
  • Other (4.6%)

How prepared was your employer for transitioning to remote work?

  • Very prepared. It was a smooth transition. (24.3%)
  • Somewhat prepared. It was a relatively smooth transition. (40.8%)
  • Somewhat unprepared. The transition was a bit difficult. (24.9%)
  • Very unprepared. The transition was difficult. (10.1%)

Did your employer give you access to the necessary technologies to make working remotely efficient and effective?

  • Yes, I have access to everything I need. (48.7%)
  • Somewhat. I have access to most things I need. (37.3%)
  • No, I don’t have access to many things I need. (13.9%)

Relative to working in person before the pandemic, how would you rate your productivity working remotely…

  • When you first shifted to remote work?
    • Much better than working in person (13.1%)
    • Somewhat better than working in person (19.2%)
    • About the same as working in person (27.9%)
    • Somewhat worse than working in person (24.5%)
    • Much worse than working in person (15.4%)
  • Now?
    • Much better than working in person (18.1%)
    • Somewhat better than working in person (23.4%)
    • About the same as working in person (30.3%)
    • Somewhat worse than working in person (18.6%)
    • Much worse than working in person (9.7%)

Methodology

This survey was commissioned by Digital.com and ran by Pollfish from January 13, 2021, to January 15, 2021. In total, 1,000 U.S. residents aged 18+ who were working in person before the COVID-19 pandemic but are now working remotely were surveyed. We used a screener question to ensure that all respondents were working in person before the pandemic but shifted to remote work and are still working remotely now. Results were stratified by gender and age to achieve a closer distribution to that of the nation.