As companies get to grips with the new third workspace, or hybrid working, a new research study from Deloitte has revealed that remote work may have declined, but it remains significant and is causing management issues.
The third edition of Deloitte’s 2022 Connectivity and mobile trends, an online survey of 2,005 US consumers conducted in the first quarter of 2022, set out to illustrate how consumers have adapted to, and even embraced, virtual approaches and gained experience in managing their digital lives.
The report noted that in 2021, the pandemic created a “societal beta test” that brought more activities and responsibilities into the home, forcing consumers into a heavily virtual world of work, school, healthcare and even exercise. They added new devices, upgraded networks and adapted quickly – even if it was sometimes overwhelming.
This year, fewer people are working and learning from home, leaving some homes less crowded and reducing pressure on people, devices and networks. Yet consumers are striking a balance between the virtual and the physical – they are optimising the devices they use and choosing to move forward with the virtual experiences they like best.
The study showed that in the US, 45% of those surveyed said one or more household members were working from home at least some of the time, down from 55% in 2021, and 47% of employed adults said they have worked from home personally at least some of the time over the past year. Those with remote working experiences strongly preferred to have virtual or hybrid options for the future.
A full 99% of those who have been working from home during the past year said they appreciated aspects of the experience. The benefits they valued most were the lack of commute, enhanced comfort, reduced chance of illness, better focus and improved family connections.
More than four-fifths of remote workers said their family relationships, professional relationships, and physical and mental wellbeing have improved or remained the same. Just over three-quarters of employed adults who worked from home during the past year prefer virtual or hybrid options for the future, while only 21% want to work mostly or completely in-person.
One of the key use cases of the hybrid workplace has been telehealth and the survey found that 49% of consumers said they had attended at least one virtual medical appointment as a patient in the past year – with millennials leading the trend at 59%. Some 92% of consumers said that they are now very or somewhat satisfied with their virtual medical experiences – up 10 percentage points from 2021.
Respondents said convenience and ease of scheduling were top benefits of virtual healthcare, but they did cite ongoing challenges, including the lack of face-to-face connection, difficulties in collecting vital signs and technology issues, such as problems with connectivity.
Smartwatches and fitness trackers continue to grow in popularity, with 41% of respondents saying they owned a smartwatch or fitness tracker – up two points from 2021 – and six in 10 had them in their households. At least one-third of smartphone users were monitoring their health and fitness with their phones, and one in five used meditation or mental wellness apps. Nine in 10 consumers who own these devices use them to track fitness and monitor health metrics.
Yet while respondents felt their devices and virtual experiences were having a positive effect on their lives, there were still some concerns around privacy, controlling screen time, and dealing with tech complexity.
Security and privacy were top of mind. Half of the respondents were worried about security breaches whereby hackers stole their personal data and 41% were concerned about being spied on through their devices. Nearly half (49%) of smart home users were concerned about hackers “taking over” their smart devices.
“Seemingly overnight, the pandemic created a seismic shift in how we use digital tools and technology,” said Jana Arbanas, vice-chair, Deloitte LLP and US telecom, media and entertainment sector leader. “While not always seamless, our survey shows that this new, digital-first lifestyle has become more normalised and standardised and is having a positive impact on consumers.
“However, tech fatigue and frustration with the complexity of managing devices remains a real challenge for users. We are seeing that consumers want to become more deliberate with their digital usage. Tech and media companies should heed this pain point and make controls and limitations easier to manage.”