As California’s coronavirus infections and hospitalizations continued to soar last month, Governor Gavin Newsom ramped up the state’s response to the crisis by shutting down a greater number of businesses. While workplaces emptied, employees and the self-employed have been thrown back into remote work. Redfield & Wilton Strategies conducted a poll to investigate Californian workers’ attitudes towards working from home.
Our poll found that a strong majority (69%) of those currently employed or self-employed in California have been working from home during the pandemic. Interestingly, a somewhat higher proportion of those who are currently will vote for Joe Biden (75%) than for Donald Trump (63%) are working from home, perhaps reflecting the Democrats’ stronger support in urban areas, which are more likely to be dominated by service sector jobs.
Half of California respondents who have been working from home during the pandemic claimed they had been more productive at home than in their usual work setting, compared to just 23% who felt they were less productive. Indeed, we have seen similar responses in our polling in the UK. Companies with the capabilities to support working from home have encouraged their staff to do so: for example, Google and Facebook have announced that they won’t bring their employees back to the office for at least a whole year, while Twitter has offered employees the opportunity to work from home permanently.
Two thirds (66%) of California respondents who have been working from home during the pandemic say they intend to continue working from home, either full or part time, in the future, even after the pandemic. Only 19% claimed they would not. Ultimately, it is clear that many workers are enjoying the financial and time-saving benefits of working from home. Employees may also be happy to have more time to spend with family and friends.
Strong support for the continuation of working from home may also by related to ongoing fears that the coronavirus crisis is not fully under control. Although California has followed relatively strict protocols, daily new infections are persistently in the thousands, while the state reported its record number of deaths for one day just weeks ago. Anxiety around a potential return may also have been accentuated by reports that some workers who have been unable to work remotely have not been appropriately protected by their employers in their work space.
For most Californians who have been working from home during the pandemic, this has been a new experience: the vast majority (78%) of respondents who are currently working at home previously worked in an office or somewhere outside their home.
Interestingly, a little more than a third (37%) of this group of employees have been asked to return to their place of work outside of their home. It may be the case that many smaller firms, who may not possess the capabilities to support a smooth transition to working from home, favor the re-establishment of office working. In their distressed financial position, many small businesses might be desperate for employees to return as soon as possible.
A huge majority (87%) of those asked to return to their workplace have done so, though most on a part-time basis. Employees may fear that a refusal to return may see them join the 30 million unemployed Americans, whose Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) recently ran out at the end of July.
The gradual return to traditional workplaces comes despite widespread and vocal resistance from powerful labor unions. Since the pandemic began, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has received more than 17,800 workplace complaints about the coronavirus. Employers have been criticized for prioritizing profits over employees’ wellbeing, failing to offer training on how to limit exposure in the workplace, and refusing to pay for testing. Many feel they are being forced to choose between a pay cheque and the health of themselves, their family, and their community.
The battle between workers and employers will continue as California debates its strategy to reopen the state once the pandemic comes under control, and more employees will be asked to return. Broad support for working from home has been permitted by large technology firms who can benefit from the arrangement, but smaller businesses and their employees face tough choices.