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Today Otter.ai, an AI-powered live transcription and collaboration app, released the results of a YouGov survey it commissioned of more than 2,000 employees in the U.S. and U.K. who’ve been working at least partially from home since the onset of the pandemic (“remote workers”). The results provide insight into what’s really happening in all these Zoom meetings, the effect of these meetings on work-life balance, attitudes about returning to the office and how the corporate world can improve productivity and morale by changing how they hold meetings.

Remote working is here to stay

Working from home was thrust upon many of us a year ago due to the onset of the pandemic. What seemed like an inconceivable shift in working practices happened almost overnight and saw our homes transformed into virtual offices. For many that was a challenge, but what are the perceptions now after a year of working from home? Who’s working from home now and who’s already back in the office, at least some of the time? And how often do they think they’ll be returning to the office?

Of the 2,027 remote workers surveyed:

  • 39% are working from home full time and believe they will be indefinitely
  • 36% are fully remote also, but think they’ll be returning to the office, at least partially, at some point in the future
  • 24% are working in the office with colleagues some of the time
  • Only 14% of remote workers say they want to return to the office full time (5 days per week or more) when it’s safe to do so
  • 20% say they never want to return to the office
  • 45% want to work between one and three days per week in the office once it’s safe to do so

People are getting more and more used to their working from home and there are eight strong reasons why people want that to continue at least partially in the future: from avoiding the hectic and expensive commute, having a more flexible timetable to balance work and life and getting to sleep in more, who wouldn’t want more sleep after all! There are also things we look forward to about returning to the office – gossiping with colleagues is right up there at number one, while eating and being merry is being craved by many people. Looking for love has been tough during the pandemic – a significant 6% look forward to flirting with colleagues at work again!

The top eight reasons remote workers want to keep working from home at least part time (respondents asked to select their top two reasons):

  • 51% – Avoid the commute
  • 34% – Get to work flexible hours
  • 26% – More productive at home
  • 22% – Fear of catching COVID or other communicable viruses
  • 21% – Get to sleep more / lie in
  • 15% – I don’t want to wear formal clothes
  • 15% – I’d miss spending time w/ my family
  • 11% – I have a better diet at home

Here’s what people miss about working in the office:

  • 43% – Watercooler chats: office chatter
  • 36% – My workstation or office is better suited to work than my home setup
  • 25% – Eating lunch out
  • 20% – Happy hours with my colleagues
  • 12% – Getting away from my spouse or partner
  • 10% – Not having to care for children
  • 6% – Flirting with colleagues

Zoom fatigue is real and alive in today’s workforce

As remote work has become the norm, video meetings have been the standout collaboration tool for businesses. Adoption of Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams has skyrocketed and become fully integrated into the work experience — at a pace never seen before. One of the biggest challenges for businesses has been keeping this new remote workforce productive and collaborative without suffering videoconferencing fatigue.

Is Zoom fatigue a thing, and how has it affected our productivity and work-life balance?

  • 42% of respondents say they’ve experienced Zoom fatigue at any time since they’ve had to work from home due to the pandemic
  • A year on, we seem to have adapted with 38% of those who have experienced Zoom fatigue saying it has gotten better compared to when they first felt it, and 20% say it’s gotten worse
  • More than half, 52%, say that working from home has improved their work-life balance, while 18% say it has hurt it

How have all these Zoom meetings affected our lives? Respondents who said they had suffered Zoom fatigue were provided with a list of potential impacts and asked to rank the top two ways Zoom fatigue has affected their work lives:

  • 41% – Poor productivity
  • 32% – Control work hours
  • 27% – Inability to leave home due to work
  • 24% – Lack of collaboration
  • 22% – An inability to sleep properly
  • 22% – Struggling to stay in contact with friends and family
  • 14% – A negative effect on family life

Business meetings need to fundamentally change

We’ve all attended more virtual meetings in 2020 than during any calendar year due to the sudden shift to remote and hybrid working. While face-to-face communications have been replaced by Zoom calls, the format of business meetings has so far remained completely unchanged. Despite many months of remote working, we still don’t know how to have effective meetings in a virtual environment. And the social etiquette for meetings has now officially gone out the window with 11% of remote workers saying they’ve not worn pants during a virtual meeting at least once in the past 12 months.

Here are seven complaints and what we need to fix them (respondents asked to rank their first and second biggest complaints/suggestions):

  • 52% – All meetings should have agendas
  • 35% – People should only attend relevant sections of meetings
  • 33% – Meetings should be shorter
  • 26% – Always share meeting notes with attendees
  • 22% – No use of cell / mobile phones during calls
  • 20% – No one should be doing emails during the meetings
  • 13% – Meetings should have five people or fewer

Here’s what people have admitted to doing at least once while on virtual meetings in the past 12 months:

  • 31% – Had private conversations with friends in the same meeting
  • 30% – Wore pyjamas
  • 23% – Shopped online
  • 15% – Played computer games
  • 12% – Exercised
  • 12% – Doomscrolled (reading bad news online to the point of affecting mental wellness)
  • 11% – Not worn trousers
  • 9% – Drank alcohol or been drunk at an inappropriate time
  • 9% – Looked for a new job
  • 5% – Browsed dating websites
  • 35% say they didn’t do any of these things

“Our survey shows that work will never be the same as before the pandemic. Employees now demand a flexible and hybrid work set up that meets the new work-life balance and changing attitudes created by working from home for such a long period,” said Sam Liang, CEO, and founder of Otter.ai. “Zoom Fatigue is real and meetings need to be adapted to suit our new working environment, whether that is fundamentally changing the structure of meetings or seeing employees engage with collaboration apps that help with meeting notes and allow the sharing of conversations in real time. Perhaps making a rule that all employees should wear pants on virtual meetings is another good one to add to the list.”

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,027 employed adults in the United States (N=1,015) and the United Kingdom (N=1,012) who are currently working at least partially remotely. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th – 19th January 2021.

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