The majority of US employees (63%) said the workplace has been forever changed by the coronavirus pandemic, believing that the way in which Americans work will never return to “normal,” a Prudential Financial report found.

SEE: Top 100+ tips for telecommuters and managers (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Prudential’s Pulse of the American Worker Survey asked respondents to share their experience of working remotely, including the technologies they used to successfully conduct work, and how the pandemic has influenced their opinions of an in-person office.

COVID-19 accelerated the popularity of remote work. Prior to the virus, 63% of organizations had up to a quarter of employees working remotely, but three-quarters of the same organizations said more than 75% of their workforce is now working from home, according to a Pulse Secure report.

While remote work quickly became the new normal, it didn’t come without its difficulties, the Prudential report found. The coronavirus also changed how employees view a future in-person workspace.

Remote work challenges and successes

The biggest challenges to working remotely included a lack of focus (40%), isolation (40%), blurred line between work/life (34%), and adjusting to new working dynamics (34%), according to the report.

Technology was the last of respondents’ concerns, with only 18% of workers citing inadequate technology as a barrier to working from home.

Despite some challenges, more than half (54%) of workers said they would like to work remotely in the future, and that figure jumps to 68% for those currently working remotely, the report found.

Three-quarters (75%) of respondents currently working remotely said their employer has taken steps to ensure they are able to work from home.

While 55% of workers did say they feel less connected to their company as a result of remote work, 69% said remote work allows them to make more time for self-care.

Another perk of working from home is that American workers have been able to hone in on certain skills. Many have developed their experience with new technologies (28%), video conference skills (28%), time/project management (24%), and critical thinking (20%), the report found.

Remote work was an adjustment for most, but employees were overall happy with their employers’ responses to the COVID-19 crisis.

How employers responded to COVID-19

The majority of workers (72%) graded their employers responses to the pandemic as a B or higher, and half of workers said they felt more committed to their employer because of its pandemic response, according to the report.

The benefits that helped employees most during the pandemic included increasing paid sick leave for workers that have COVID-19 (48%), waiving copays for COVID-19 testing and treatment (43%), and providing access to healthcare professionals 24/7 (24%).

Many remote workers said they don’t feel comfortable returning to work even after the pandemic is over, the report found.

Future of work

The majority of employees (66%) agreed that the worksite will need to be restructured to create more personal space after the coronavirus. Nearly half (49%) of workers also said they believe that open offices are no longer conducive to their health and wellness, according to the report.

Half (50%) of respondents also said they want their employers to limit the number of in-person meetings once the pandemic is over. Employees expect their future workplace to look very different, if they even go back to the office.

Some 68% of workers said remote work will become normalized after the pandemic, and one in five said they are seriously considering looking elsewhere for a job that allows them to work remotely, the report found.

For those considering landing new roles, more than a quarter (27%) said they are worried they won’t have the necessary skills. Nearly half (49%) said they will most likely turn to online programs for learning, based on their experience with online training/courses during the global pandemic. That number jumps to 59% among those currently working remotely.

Skilling has also become more popular as a result of the pandemic. With more employees working from home, 44% of workers said they spent time learning new skills because they either had the time (47%) or wanted to ensure they had skills to be employable (33%), the report found.

As for which skills to focus on, employees cited adaptability (37%) as the most critical, especially given the fluidity and changes that resulted from COVID-19.

While the coronavirus created a climate of uncertainty, one guarantee is that the future of work will never look the same, according to the report.

For more, check out The new normal: Conversa HealthCheck helps businesses adjust after COVID-19 on TechRepublic.

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