Can office support professionals work from home?

Written by: Ethan Cumming
Published on: 29 Sep 2020

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As the UK’s only job board dedicated to PAs, EAs and other office support professionals, SecsintheCity is uniquely positioned to explore the impact that Coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown have had on the profession. We invited our audience to complete a survey about the challenges and benefits they have faced over the last 6 months, aiming to find out if remote working is a sustainable option for office support workers.

Less than half of the SecsintheCity community were afforded the opportunity to work from home before government enforced remote working came into effect in March, meaning that many of the 93% of office support professionals who have been working from home may have felt unprepared when transitioning to this phase of their career. Furthermore, 72% of those still do not know when they will return to office working.

While most office support professionals have been working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, the hospitality (30%), retail (22%), recruitment (20%) and consultancy (18%) industries saw a higher percentage of workers who were not granted the same privilege. This is likely due to required physical presence in sectors like hospitality and retail, or the frequent client meetings of recruitment and consultancy.

Productivity and performance

When asked to compare their office and home working performance, the vast majority (79%) of the SecsintheCity community told us that being remote has so far resulted in greater productivity. Most of these respondents (64%) attributed their increased output to the fewer distractions experienced at home, but a further 17% disagreed, stating that removal of office politics had been the ultimate decider when it came to their uptick in productivity.

Although most office support professionals in all age groups agree that remote working is more productive, there are some age brackets with bigger majorities than others. For example, at 81% the 41-60 years bracket has the highest count of individuals who think they are more productive when working from home, compared to 77% of those under 40 years old and 63% of respondents who are 61 or older.

Productivity also seems to vary among job titles, with a particularly high percentage of PAs (34%), Receptionists (33%), Project Managers (29%) and HR professionals (27%) all expressing feelings of reduced output when working remotely. Of all office support roles, Receptionists, Project Managers and HR personnel are the professionals that deal with many people every single day, meaning that their roles will have changed the most when transitioning from office-based to remote. Meanwhile, some PAs may think they cannot provide the high levels of assistance their principles are used to, leading to feelings of reduced productivity.

The virtues and vexations of going virtual

The SecsintheCity audience agree that the greatest benefits of working remotely are those that help them to save their money and take control of their time. Over half (51%) argue that not commuting is the best perk of going virtual, while a further 21% said that the money saved on travel and food is their favourite.

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35% of respondents who have saved time while working from home have reallocated those hours to hobbies and leisure activities, while a further 35% decided to rest and relax. Ever a proactive community, 15% of our audience spent their saved time investing in their career with an online course.

When it comes to the challenges of remote working, 28% of those surveyed agree that not seeing colleagues in the office has been the most difficult to overcome, while another 16% said that working and living in the same place was the hardest aspect.

For our audience, the main challenges associated with working from home are to do with having a dedicated workspace that is populated with colleagues. For remote working to be successful in the future, employers must ensure that their office support workers have appropriate, effective workstations at home, from which virtual collaboration and social interaction with colleagues are not only enabled but also encouraged.

Can office support professionals work from home?

On the surface it sounds like a trick question; how can one provide functional office support from their kitchen table? However, the PAs, EAs, Administrators, Secretaries and Office Managers in our audience have demonstrated beyond doubt not only that they can work from home, but that they want to work from home.

Of the 45% of respondents who had the opportunity to work from home prior to the pandemic, 32% worked from home once per week and 34% were based remotely just once per month. Now, however, 93% would like the opportunity to work from home even after regular office working resumes, likely to continue to enjoy the freedom that extra time and money permits. Almost half (46%) want to work remotely a few times per week, while a further 28% want the freedom to be based at home as often as they choose.

Overall, the majority (93%) of office support professionals agree that their employers have adapted well to remote working and, impressively, 56% of those decided that their employer could not have handled the pandemic any better than they did.

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However, the remainder think that employers could have done a better job of supplying equipment and resources (25%) and communicating the latest developments (15%), further highlighting employers’ responsibility to ensure that their staff have both the physical kit and the emotional support they need to get their job done to a high standard every day.

Evidently, the majority of office support professionals want to work remotely in some capacity in the future, but it’s up to employers to ensure that workers’ concerns and needs are addressed now. If done correctly, with the right collaboration and communication tools enabled, even those PAs, Receptionists, Project Managers and HR professionals who have been feeling unproductive at home may come around to the benefits and efficiencies of remote working.