Fourth annual study by MindEdge Learning finds that many expect remote work to remain prevalent
BOSTON, MA (February 24, 2021) –
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into its second year, American companies are preparing for a “new normal” that includes continued remote work at many companies, and mandatory vaccinations at many more. But remote work and increased automation are also creating new challenges for American workers – and spurring a greater need for workers to “future-proof” their careers with new job skills.
Responses to the fourth annual national survey from edtech firm MindEdge Learning show that, even with the prospect of effective vaccines, more than one-third of managers (35%) expect that many of their employees will remain remote after the end of the pandemic.
Employees who plan to return to their workplaces are likely to encounter new health and safety requirements. Fully 87% of respondents report that their companies have already introduced new health and safety protocols due to COVID-19.
In addition, a clear majority (54%) expect that employees will be required to vaccinate before returning to the workplace. Current guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that vaccine mandates are allowed to ensure a safe workplace for other employees, as long as reasonable accommodations are available to those who are unable to receive the vaccine.
The fourth annual Future of Work survey from MindEdge Learning, The New Frontier of the American Workplace, surveyed 830 U.S. managers or above about their experiences with automation at work, and how the pandemic has affected their workplaces.
Pandemic-related increases in workplace automation
The survey results indicate that the global pandemic has accelerated the use of advanced automation in the American workplace. A majority (52%) of survey respondents report that their companies have increased the use of robotics or other forms of advanced automation in direct response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Among managers whose companies automated in response to the pandemic, 39% say that automation was introduced primarily to protect workers’ health and safety, while 33% say it was mainly a cost-cutting move.
Protecting health and safety was an especially strong motivation in the healthcare (45%) and retail (41%) sectors. But companies in the technology (47%) and manufacturing (42%) sectors introduced new technology mainly as a way to cut costs.
Among companies that automated in the last year – whether in response to the pandemic or for other reasons – 40% say that workers lost jobs due to the adoption of new technology, while 39% report no job losses and another 10% say that automation created additional jobs and led to more hiring.
Automation-related job losses were most prevalent in the technology (57%) sector. Close to half of all managers in the manufacturing (46%) and business products/services (46%) sectors also report job losses resulting from the introduction of new technology.
Job security and “future-proofing”
The prospect of job losses has led to rising concerns about workers’ job security. A majority (53%) of survey respondents report that their employees are “very” or “fairly” concerned about their short-term job security, while 25% of survey respondents say their employees are “not at all” concerned.
These figures indicate significantly higher levels of concern, compared to two years ago. In MindEdge’s 2019 Future of Work survey, just 32% of managers said their employees were “very” or “fairly” concerned about losing their jobs, and fully 38% said they were “not at all” concerned.
“Automation and robotics have been reshaping the workplace for several years, but tighter budgets and the risk of exposure during the pandemic have led companies to accelerate their adoption of these technologies,” said Frank Connolly, director of research at MindEdge Learning. “At the same time, employers are realizing that despite advancements in technology, automation can’t replace many skills that are essentially human – and these are the skills that can help workers ‘future-proof’ their careers.”
Among the key skills that most clearly set humans apart from robots and advanced technology, survey respondents single out:
- Creative thinking (33%)
- Communication (27%)
- Complex problem-solving (26%)
- IT/network information security (26%)
- Decision-making (25%)
Upskilling to adapt to the “new normal”
About two-of-five (42%) survey respondents say they do not expect life to return to “normal” until this summer. Just under half (48%) think conditions won’t be back to normal until the fall at the earliest – including 16% who think it will take until the spring of 2022.
At the same time, more than half (57%) of managers expect the U.S. economy to be in better shape a year from now, compared to only 21% who expect things to be worse.
The survey results suggest that some of the workplace changes made as a result of the pandemic will remain in effect beyond the return to work. Just under half (46%) of managers say that increased health and safety protocols will continue in effect, and 35% expect that many employees will continue to work remotely. Another 22% think that their company’s work culture will remain stronger than it was before the pandemic.
Many companies will also have to adjust to being smaller. More than three-of-five (63%) managers report that their company’s workforce was reduced because of COVID-19, and 13% expect that significant workforce reductions will continue in effect even after the pandemic ends.
“Workforce reductions due to the pandemic have led more workers to take over new workplace responsibilities,” added Connolly. “In this ‘new normal,’ it is critical that companies find ways to upskill and retrain their employees. Efficient and effective professional development courses have become a business necessity.”
According to the survey, the most popular methods of improving employee skills are internal training and retraining programs (48%), and online courses (44%). But many companies are not yet deeply invested in skills training: 32% of managers say the greatest roadblock to retraining workers at their company is limited access to training resources. Another 11% say that worker training is simply not a corporate priority at their firms.
About the Methodology
MindEdge Learning’s fourth annual Future of Work Study, The New Frontier of the American Workplace, was conducted online during the week of January 11, 2021. The sample included 830 U.S. residents, 18 or older, who are employed at the level or manager or above. The survey results have a margin of error of +/- 3.4%, at a 95% confidence level.
About MindEdge Learning
MindEdge’s mission is to improve the way the world learns. Since its founding in 1998 by Harvard and MIT educators, the company has served some 2.5 million learners. With a focus on digital-first learning resources — from academic courseware to professional development courses — MindEdge’s approach to best practices in online education focuses on learners’ needs across the spectrum of higher education, professional development, skills training, and continuing education. MindEdge is based in Waltham, Mass.
InkHouse (for MindEdge)