New survey reveals findings consistent with June survey, indicating the lower preference for commuting post-COVID is now established after four months of new working practices
L.E.K. Consulting conducted the fourth in a series of surveys (via Toluna) asking whether workers new to working from home would like to continue the arrangement or return to their prior workplace after the pandemic has eased. For the first time, these results have stabilised following three months of growth in the proportion of respondents who wanted to continue working from home. Our previous results are available for each of April, May, and June.
By mid-July, U.K. restrictions have eased substantially, including the re-opening of pubs and restaurants and the resumption of domestic and some international travel. In addition, the U.K. government has announced that the advice encouraging working from home (for those who can) will no longer apply from 1 August, with employers having greater discretion regarding working practices. Public transport is also no longer limited to essential journeys. As more elements of consumers’ pre-lockdown lives are restored – including a potential return to the workplace in two weeks – could this change their preferences relating to working from home?
L.E.K.’s survey (conducted on 17-20 July) showed c.65% of respondents that are new to working from home reporting a preference for either working fully or partly from home in the future, with results quite consistent with findings from June (see Figure 1). After three months of evolving preferences, this suggests employees have now established their habits and attitudes towards working from home. These results are the best indication yet of the ‘new normal’ for employee preferences, providing a basis for transport operators and employers more broadly to think about capacity planning and demand management.
The July findings also provide insights on how working-from-home preferences vary with demographic factors:
- Preferences for working from home are correlated with age – older employees are more likely to want to get back to the workplace, while younger employees are more comfortable with remote and flexible working approaches.
- Employees in the south of England, Midlands and Wales have a stronger preference for working from home than those in the north and Scotland.
- Gender does not appear to be a significant differentiator of preference for home working.
Implications for operators
- Passenger demand: Demand for commuting journeys is likely to be lower post-COVID – our survey suggests a 15-20% decline, assuming employers are supportive. Flexible working will also change travel patterns, which operators should encourage to improve asset utilisation with more even demand across the day.
- New product development: Mixed models of flexible working need new products that enable different commuting patterns. Products should meet demand for three or four days of office-based work per week and allow for combinations of peak and off-peak travel.
- Passenger segmentation: The widespread adoption and newly formed habits of working from home require new approaches to segmentation, explicitly taking into account the ability to work from home, linked to occupation. Newly formed habits extend to other journey types as well – we considered broader changes to passenger segmentation for transport operators in our webinar ‘Inside the mind of the post-COVID traveller’. In this webinar, quantitative consumer research explored passengers’ intent to travel by journey purpose, as well as the underlying attitudes driving any reduction in travel. Our findings point to five new segments of travellers during the COVID recovery (see Figure 2).
The largest segment is “Back to normal” – the slight majority of passenges who want to return to pre-COVID life for all journey purposes. The other segments capture new habits and attitudes introduced by lockdown. For example, “Digital expats” are those who now have a ‘habit’ of working from home and will commute less in the future, while “Safety first” is those who remain cautious about travel in the future, reducing journeys across all purposes. Operators must re-think their current segmentation to capture these new dimensions. Only through such an exercise can they understand the likely shape of the recovery and identify areas for action to help stimulate and shape demand.