When Will Tech Workers Be Willing To Return To Work?

May 21st, 2020

As U.S. states begin reopening their economies in stages, a flurry of reporting has emerged around the risks and benefits of these plans. Amidst the myriad government plans, many office-based professionals who have transitioned to working remotely since the pandemic began are wondering about how “return to work” policies will impact them as well.

While political leaders have pushed for an expedited economic reopening, medical experts warn of the health and economic risks of moving too quickly. On the ground, protesters in some states are demanding an end to shelter-in-place. In contrast, FiveThirtyEight’s polling roundup shows the majority of the public is hesitant to lift shelter-in-place orders in the near future. Companies are working on their own strategies and timelines for when, and how, to bring employees back to the workplace. 

We polled our TrustRadius site visitors to get a pulse on how professionals feel about returning to the workplace, and when they would feel comfortable coming back. 

Would Tech Workers Return to Work Today? 

According to our poll of 1876 TrustRadius website visitors from May 6th-12th, a plurality of our community is opposed to returning to the workplace any time in May.

A doughnut chart showing answers to the question "Would Tech Workers Return to the Workplace in May?"

These results match national polls which found that only a small minority of Americans support imminently reopening the economy. “Reopening the economy” is as much a personal decision as it is a political or macro-economic one. Our data suggests individuals are not yet comfortable with reopening. Even if policies loosen, many professionals will be hesitant, if not outright opposed, to returning to their workplaces.

Nearly half of all respondents are not planning on an imminent return to the office. Even those willing to return to the office in May may not feel comfortable while doing so. Office professionals may not experience the same COVID-related risks in their lines of work as frontline workers. But it’s still an open question of when, or even if, tech workers will return to the office. 

When Are Tech Workers Willing To Return? 

If most tech professionals aren’t planning on a return to the office in May, when will they be willing to come back? For many members of the TrustRadius community, that date isn’t before the Fall. For some, it’s not even this year. 

Bar graph showing answers to the question "When Are Employees Willing to Return to the Office?"

Workers who aren’t predicting an imminent return say they plan to return to work 6 months or more from now. The fact that a plurality of tech workers we surveyed are looking towards the winter or 2021 to return to the office presents a much longer timeline than other data sources currently report. 

For instance, one study from The Hustle, published May 6th, points to a greater willingness to return to the office in the summer: 

Graph from The Hustle featuring answers to when workers will feel comfortable to return to pre-COVID activities, by said activities

There is a range of reasons workers may be willing to return to the office sooner rather than later. For instance, a separate TrustRadius study from May 11th found that over half of workers are experiencing increased familial duties and struggling with childcare, with a disproportionate burden on women. Over half of workers are also struggling to communicate with colleagues and stay engaged in the company culture while remote. Some may be seeking to recoup lost income from furloughs or cut hours. 

However, as the summer months draw closer, the severity of our current situation may be tempering workers’ enthusiasm for reopening offices. Recent polling shows a majority of people who have lost income are still concerned that governments may reopen economies too quickly. 

Workers may also be setting longer return-to-work timelines for scientific or logistical reasons. Fears of a second wave of the virus in the fall may be encouraging workers to plan to stay at home. Parents may also be tying their return to work plans to when kids can return to school—an uncertain prospect given conflicting signals from government officials.

How Comfortable Are Workers With Returning to the Workplace?

There may also be external factors that could pressure employees into returning to the office before they’re comfortable doing so. Of those respondents willing to return to the office, 16% said they would not feel comfortable doing so. The disconnect between “willing to return” and “comfortable returning” suggests that some workers feel pressure to re-enter social/professional settings before they feel safe or secure in those environments. 

Prior research from TrustRadius shows that 1 in 3 workers are feeling pressure to be more productive than before the pandemic. The same study found that just as many workers are also newly balancing round-the-clock childcare on top of professional obligations. Employees feeling the strain of working from home under these conditions may be more willing to return to a less distracting environment, even if there is greater risk involved. Managers and business owners should be cognizant of health concerns that even compliant workers may have, and take steps to ensure workers’ safety. 

Returning to Work Isn’t Always a Question of “When” 

As many of us navigate whether, or how, to return to the office, we should remember that not everyone is experiencing the same path through COVID-19. In our poll, 14% of respondents said that the question of returning to work in May, and the implied internal debate between career and health, was not applicable to them. This segment of the TrustRadius audience represented essential workers, those who have already lost their jobs, and workers who were already remote, along with others who have had to remain on-premises.

Bar graph showing who tech workers unaffected by returning to the office are

Noteworthy within this segment of respondents is the percentage of workers who were already remote prior to the pandemic. Prior research from TrustRadius on COVID-19’s impact on software spending suggests that roughly 15% of organizations were already prepared for remote work or already working remotely. For these workers, there is no necessity to return to the office in order to do their jobs. Instead, they’ve demonstrated the viability of remote or distributed workers in various industries. 

This begs the question of whether workers must return to the workplace at all? 

Over the last few months, many tech companies have made the logistical transition to fully-remote workforces. These investments in infrastructure, software, and processes may have also reduced the need for workspaces to rush to reopen in the same way as the service sector. 

Where Do Businesses Go From Here?

The general consensus from the TrustRadius audience is that returning to the workplace should be optional and taken very slowly with an eye towards local conditions. If offices reopen, there is still a risk of needing to reclose at any time. Instead, many tech companies will maintain current remote work policies through the rest of 2020. This policy gives employees the flexibility necessary to balance their professional and personal obligations. 

Some organizations are taking this opportunity to make current WFH policies a permanent option for their employees. Some tech giants, such as Facebook, have already established plans to allow employees to work remotely through the end of 2020. Most recently, Twitter’s CEO announced a permanent “work from home” policy for nearly all employees, setting a precedent for other tech companies to follow. 

As companies evaluate return to work strategies, marketing and sales teams are also eyeing how these changes impact their pipeline and sales cycles. To assist our community, we provide category-level and product-level intent data for software vendors who want to keep a pulse on the market. Right now we’re offering 30 days of free True Intent data to all qualified vendors. It’s one of many ways we’re working to help the tech industry overcome the challenges of COVID-19. Learn more here