Only 20% of British Columbians feel very comfortable going back into the workplace

Biggest concern is catching COVID-19 from a co-worker or customer (78%)

AS British Columbia completes Phase 2 of the provincial economic re-opening and Phase 3 begins, the latest poll from Insights West shows that a significant number of workers are reluctant to return to the workplace because they are concerned about their safety from COVID-19 when they go back.

As businesses begin to comply with the provincial health authority and WorkSafeBC and begin re-opening, very few workers (20%) are ‘very comfortable’ with the prospect of returning to the workplace, with a further 43% are feeling only ‘somewhat comfortable’.

At the other end of the spectrum, a large minority (37%) do not feel comfortable, including 24% who are ‘not very comfortable’ and 12% who feel ‘not at all comfortable’.

There are big differences between age and gender groups. Males are far more likely to feel comfortable returning to the workspace (71% versus 58% for females). Workers who are 55 years or older are feeling less comfortable (55% are comfortable), than their counterparts in younger age groups (65% of those 19-34 years and 66% of those 35-54 years are comfortable).

The major concern among workers returning to their traditional workplace is trying to comply with physical distancing rules as well as a concern about catching COVID-19. A significant majority (67%) are concerned about physical distancing when it comes to common spaces like kitchens, hallways and bathrooms and a similar number (66%) are concerned about physical distance when in their actual workspace. The largest concern is catching COVID-19 from a co-worker or customer, as 78% express concern over the prospect of this happening. So far, companies are doing a pretty good job in making sure employees are feeling safe, as only 44% are concerned about their company not taking enough precautions.

Given a choice, the vast majority of workers still working from home would not return to the workplace anytime soon. Only a fraction of these workers (13%) would choose to go back now if it were up to them, and only a further 18% would prefer to go back in September. A few (15%) would choose December or January, but the largest percentage would choose to go back either when there are zero COVID-19 cases (8%), or when a vaccine or treatment is found (25%). Further, 19% of workers would choose to stay home permanently if they were given the choice.

Of those who worked from home during the pandemic, opinions are split on the issue of worker productivity versus a more traditional workplace, but overall it tips in favour of workers feeling that productivity is reduced instead of enhanced. A large minority (37%) of workers believe they are less productive at home, including most who feel they are only a little less productive (29%) versus 8% who are a lot less productive. Conversely, 29% feel more productive at home (including 13% who are a lot more productive).

“In the early days of the pandemic I read a prediction about COVID-19 making a long-lasting radical change to workplaces,” says Steve Mossop, President of Insights West. “And now I believe that this is not a temporary blip on the horizon, but this pandemic could permanently alter how we live and work for years to come. This could have drastic implications for commercial real estate in the years to come, company team-building and socialization, and the infrastructure needed to support productivity in the workplace.”