Results of the 2020/2021 Edge International Global Remote Working Survey Part 1: The Data

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By Jonathan Middleburgh | May 18, 2021

Please enjoy the above 7 minute video overview

I am delighted to publish the results of the Edge International 2020/2021 Global Remote Working Survey.

This is the first part of a two-part review of the results. In this part I am sharing the results.  In the second part, I – together with Gerry Riskin – will be suggesting some practical conclusions that can be drawn from the results, which should inform how leaders manage remote working post-pandemic.

This part of the article consists of this summary, which sets the headline results of the survey.  The detailed results are available in a slide deck, which can be accessed by clicking here.

Key Headlines

  • The vast majority of respondents (87%) want to continue working remotely between 1 and 4 days a week post-pandemic. Only 6% want to work remotely full-time.
  • Productivity and Motivation have held up relatively well during the period of remote working caused by the pandemic.
  • For most, remote working has either had a neutral or positive impact on both physical and emotional well-being. However, for a significant minority it has had detrimental consequences.
  • Almost half of respondents report that remote working has damaged the cohesiveness of their firms.
  • For the vast majority of respondents, feelings of loyalty towards their firms have stayed about the same or increased.
  • Most report that relationships with colleagues and with clients have stayed about the same or improved; however, a significant minority report that they have deteriorated somewhat or significantly.
  • Only a small minority report less effective supervision of their work or management while working remotely.
  • A high percentage of those with childcare responsibilities report that childcare issues impact detrimentally on their ability to work effectively while working remotely.
  • A significant minority report a belief that remote working will impact negatively on their opportunities for career progression and promotion if they continue to work remotely post-pandemic.
  • A third of respondents report that their remote working environment is less comfortable, far less comfortable or uncomfortable, compared to the office; likewise, a third of respondents report that their remote working IT resources are somewhat or significantly worse than those in the office.

Background to the Survey

Like other colleagues, I was struck last year by the lack of data available to help firms with their decision-making around remote working, both as the pandemic continued and looking ahead to a time when restrictions caused by the pandemic are lifted. I was concerned that some firms were beginning to make significant decisions without robust empirical data, in particular benchmarking data.  It is for this reason that I designed the survey.

Participation in the Survey – Benchmark Data Set

An open invitation was extended in early December 2020 to firms to participate in the survey.  The survey, which consists of 24 questions (several of which contain sub-questions), takes around 20-30 minutes to complete.

927 lawyers / law firm employees completed the survey between 12th December 2020 and 12th February 2021, at which point I decided to close the survey in terms of the benchmark data set.

The benchmark data set is made up of a spread of lawyers and other law firm employees (see Q3):

  • 4% are senior management
  • 27% are partners in their firms
  • 37% are associates
  • The balance are paralegals, interns/trainees, legal secretaries and business support of which business support is 11% of the data set.

In terms of length of tenure at their firms, 11% of respondents started after the onset of the pandemic, 39% have been at their firms for less than 5 years, 21% between 5 and 10 years and 29% more than 10 years.

History of Remote Working

The survey focuses on the experience of those who have worked remotely for a significant amount of time since the pandemic began (92% of respondents; the other 8% of respondents only answered Question 1 of the survey and were then taken to the end of the survey).

Of those who have worked remotely for a significant extent since the pandemic began, only 14% had worked remotely to a significant extent pre-pandemic.  This is important, as the vast majority of respondents who completed the survey had not previously had significant experience of remote working.

Productivity and Motivation

Questions 6 to 9 focus on productivity and motivation.  In terms of productivity, perceived productivity seems to have held up relatively well while working remotely, both in the early days of remote working, and as the pandemic has continued.  For example, 81% of respondents report that they believe their productivity has either stayed the same or increased over the entire period since they started working remotely.

However – and this is an important caveat – a significant minority report that their productivity has decreased.  Over the entire period 19% of respondents report that their productivity has decreased slightly or significantly.  That said, only 3% report that their productivity has decreased significantly.  These figures can of course be tested against actual productivity figures in many firms.

In terms of motivation, this too seems to have held up reasonably well while working remotely, both during the early days of remote working, and as the pandemic has continued.  78% of respondents report that their motivation has either stayed the same or increased over the entire period since they started working remotely. 22% of respondents report a slight or significant decrease in motivation (5% significant; 17% slight).

Being an Effective Resource for the Firm

One in three respondents report that they believe that they are a more effective resource for the firm when working remotely and a further 40% report that they are ‘about the same’ in terms of being an effective resource for the firm (Q10).

However, one in five (19%) do not believe that they are a more effective resource for the firm when working remotely.  This chimes with figures on productivity and motivation and would suggest that roughly one in five employees believe that they are either slightly less effective or significantly less effective as a resource for the firm when working remotely.

Physical and Emotional Well-being

Question 11 focuses on the perceived impact of remote working on physical and emotional well-being.

58% of respondents believe that remote working has had a somewhat or significantly positive effective on their physical well-being (28% somewhat; 30% significant).  21% report remote working as having had a neutral effect on their physical well-being.  Only 2% report remote working as having had a significantly negative effect on their physical well-being. However, 18% report that it has had a somewhat negative effect on their physical well-being.

Similarly, 53% of respondents believe that remote working has had a somewhat or significantly positive effective on their emotional well-being (27% somewhat; 26% significant).  20% report remote working as having had a neutral effect on their emotional well-being.  Only 4% report remote working as having had a significantly negative effect on their emotional well-being. However, 23% report that it has had a somewhat negative effect on their emotional well-being.

These figures came as a personal surprise to me – I had not anticipated that such a high percentage would report remote working as having a positive effect on their physical and emotional well-being.  The fact that a significant minority report remote working as having had a negative effect on their physical and emotional well-being was less surprising to me.

Further data points confirming the emotional impact of remote working can be drawn from the responses to question 20. For example, 21% of respondents report that they have experienced low motivation since working remotely, 20% low mood, 16% volatility of mood and 7% depression.

Childcare Issues

A very high percentage of respondents who have children requiring childcare report that childcare issues impact detrimentally on their ability to work effectively (Q13).

Of the 30% of respondents who have children requiring childcare, 60% report that childcare issues impact detrimentally on their ability to work effectively while working remotely.  One in five of these (22%) report that childcare issues impact detrimentally to a large extent on their ability to work remotely.

Relationships with Internal Colleagues / Team Working

A number of questions explore relationships with internal colleagues and team working.

In response to Q18(A), 50% of respondents report that their relationships with internal colleagues have stayed about the same and 13% report that they have improved somewhat or significantly. However a significant minority report that these relationships have deteriorated – 27% report that they have deteriorated somewhat; 4% significantly.

In response to Q18(D), 60% of respondents report that their ability to work as part of a team has stayed about the same and 20% report that it has improved somewhat or significantly.  Here too, a significant minority report a deterioration in team working.  14% report that their ability to work as part of a team has deteriorated somewhat; 3% report that it has deteriorated significantly.

In response to Q20, 43% of respondents report that they have experienced fewer opportunities to bounce ideas off colleagues while working remotely and 42% report fewer opportunities to brainstorm with colleagues.

Relationships with Clients

Question 20 explores relationships with external clients.

Just over half of respondents (53%) report that relationship with clients have stayed about the same.  11% report that they have improved somewhat and a further 4% report that they have improved significantly.

A small (but significant) percentage (11%) report that relationships with clients have deteriorated somewhat.  Only 1% report that relationships with clients have deteriorated significantly.

Leadership actions / Management while working remotely

Question 22 explores a variety of leadership actions during remote working. A high percentage of respondents have experienced virtual team meetings (84%) and / or virtual social events helping them to stay connected with team members and colleagues (74%).  A much lower percentage report one-to-one interactions with leadership – only 36% report that leadership has held virtual one-to-ones to touch base with them individually.  That said, 69% report that leadership has demonstrated concern for their well-being.

Overall, respondents appear to be relatively satisfied with how they have been managed while working remotely. Only 10% of respondents report less effective supervision of their work while working remotely and only 8% report less effective management by their manager or supervisor (see Q20).

Preferences regarding remote working post-pandemic

The vast majority of respondents would like to spend a significant percentage of their working week working remotely, post-pandemic (see Q21). 87% of respondents would like to work remotely between 1 and 4 days a week once the pandemic is no longer the determining factor.

22% would like to work remotely 1 day a week, 26% 2 days a week, 21% 3 days a week and 18% 4 days a week.  Only 6% express a preference for full-time remote working; 7% express a preference for full-time office working.

Firm cohesiveness / Feelings of loyalty

Just over half of respondents report that remote working has had no impact on or enhanced the cohesiveness of their firms (Q23).  However, just under half report that it has somewhat or significantly decreased its cohesiveness. 40% report that it has somewhat decreased the cohesiveness of their firm; 7% report that it has significantly decreased the cohesiveness of their firm.  These figures should be of some concern for senior leadership.

The responses to question 23 are somewhat difficult to square with the responses to question 24 which explores personal feelings of loyalty asking: ‘Have your feelings of loyalty towards your firm increased or decreased since you started working remotely?’

In response to this question only 6% report that feelings of loyalty have decreased.  58% report that they have stayed about the same and 33% report that they have increased.

Other important findings

Some other findings are as follows:

  • 26% of respondents report a higher level of disruptions when working remotely than when working in the office (Q12) – however only 6% report a significantly higher level of disruptions.
  • One in three respondents report that their remote working environment (as regards space, noise, desk, chair etc.) is either less comfortable, far less comfortable or uncomfortable compared to the office (Q14).
  • One in three respondents report that their remote working IT resources are somewhat or significantly worse than those in the office (Q15) – however only 4% report that they are significantly worse.
  • The vast majority of respondents report that they spend some or all of the time they save commuting on working (Q17) – 10% report that they spend all of it working and a further 17% report that they now work even longer hours than their previous working day including their daily commute.
  • The majority of respondents report that the punctuality and running of both internal meetings and meetings with clients has stayed the same or improved while working remotely (Q18(B-C); Q18(F-G)).
  • A significant minority of respondents report that their opportunities to enhance their professional skills (e.g. through formal or informal CPD) have deteriorated somewhat or significantly while working remotely (Q18(H)). 7% report that they have deteriorated significantly.
  • A significant percentage (20%) of respondents report that they believe their opportunities for career progression and promotion are likely to deteriorate if they continue to work remotely post-pandemic (Q19).

Implications of the Survey

I, together with Gerry Riskin, will be exploring the implications of the Survey in Part 2 of this review.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the survey with me, my contact details are below. Similarly, if you would like to consider having your firm take the survey – and receive a detailed report benchmarking your firm’s results against the benchmark data set – please be in contact with me.

Jonathan Middleburgh can be reached by email at Middleburgh@edge-international.com or on +44(0)7973 836343

Edge Principal Jonathan Middleburgh consults on senior human capital issues and coaches senior legal talent in both law firms and legal departments. A former practicing lawyer who is also trained as an organisational psychologist, Jonathan has a wide range of experience helping law firms and legal departments to develop their senior legal talent so as to maximise business outcomes.