Before we get into the data itself, we want to acknowledge how difficult this time has been for our friends in healthcare. From the harrowing reality of life-and-death issues affecting us all—especially those caring for patients—to the stresses placed on IT to make things work during such upheaval, nothing about this has been (or is) easy. Clearly, working tirelessly over 12+ hours shifts in uncomfortable, restrictive PPE and putting one’s life on the line each and every day is unparalleled, but the IT teams who completely changed their day-to-day work roles in a time of need and adapted to work from home should also be commended.
ControlUp can spot some interesting trends we can see in our anonymized customer data. This data is normalized to include only a sample of some of our healthcare customers, so we could analyze remote access trends in different countries. In this case, we only included healthcare customers who were ControlUp customers from December 2019 to December 2021 to see what usage data showed pre-pandemic vs. during the pandemic.
The scenario that played out introduced significant challenges for IT departments. Many of these workers didn’t even have a dedicated work laptop or PC. IT teams not only had to suddenly get admin staff out of the offices and ready to work from home, but also had to onboard staff and help them through it to get to a productive place. Our data suggests that public health measures across different countries played a significant role in healthcare companies’ remote work usage and that, depending on location, healthcare systems were better- or worse-equipped and prepared to flip to support remote work than their counterparts.
The United States is obviously a huge country and public health measures and responses differ in each of its 50 states. ControlUp’s data (shown above) shows remote access usage (plotted in blue) and the COVID daily cases (data taken from the New York Times) overlayed in red. There is no Y axis on our charts; this is merely overlaying the relative line trends of the datasets.
Interestingly, we can see the work-from-home initiative started before “the first wave,” which would have been seismic on its own. As the COVID numbers seemed to stabilize, the number of work-from-home (WFH) sessions seemed to drop as businesses started reopening and pushing people to come back to the office.
The second wave, from June to July 2020 appears to have led to WFH usage increasing a little bit, but still below first-wave levels. As COVID got “under control” (relative to the previous peak per the CDC), remote work seemed to wane along with some of the public health restrictions like stay-at-home orders that were lifted over the summer.
When the third wave started its incline, we saw a large spike in WFH with a dip in usage around Christmas, and then picking up where it left off thereafter. Interestingly, from the beginning of 2021 through Summer 2021, we could see remote work increase even though COVID cases were on the decline. Reasons for this could be numerous. Organizations may have, by then, implemented proper processes and infrastructure to support remote work; perhaps people simply preferred to work from home. Regardless of why, people were still working remotely.
Again, though public health restrictions were lifted in the U.S., WFH usage dropped. As public health restrictions were reduced, the Delta variant wave started rolling through.As it peaked and public health restrictions were tightened, the prevalence of WFH soared. It’s at this point it almost appears as if orgs could turn WFH on and off as needed. Work from home usage can be seen in spikes instead of gentle slopes.
A great example to contrast this with, is Ireland, where my colleague, Rory Monaghan, lives. In the chart above, the number of remote sessions is displayed in green and Ireland’s daily COVID cases overlayed in blue. While the U.S.healthcare sample, ahead of the Pandemic, seemed to be somewhat prepared for a shift to remote work, the sample of data we have for Ireland suggests the time it took to get remote workers supported was lengthy. It seems to have taken several months for the number of remote work sessions to increase in any significant way. We can see a large increase at the end of 2020 and another in the summer of 2021.
Ireland was ahead of the curve in implementing heavy restrictions earlier than many of its European and American neighbours, yet from our data, we can clearly see those restrictions don’t correlate with work-from-home usage. This doesn’t necessarily equate to those people being instructed to remain working in the hospitals and offices. Public health policy at the time in Ireland would suggest many people would have been told to work from home. The data suggest, more likely, organizations didn’t have the infrastructure in place to support a remote workforce when the pandemic began.
The Irish Medical Journal reported a significant decrease in elective surgeries in the spring of 2020, with some electives dropping by as much as 93%. By the middle of April, COVID hospitalizations across the country were close to 900 with 155 of those in intensive care units. This is a system that, prior to the pandemic, had 225 ICU beds in the whole of the public system. The pressure was clearly there, but as you can see in our data, it appears the major increase in remote work didn’t come until months later.
Another interesting trend in the data for Ireland is that as remote access dipped significantly around Christmas (as it does in many countries), we also see that the highest spike in cases coincides with people being off work for the holidays and about to return to work.
Now we move onto Sweden. Sweden is an interesting dataset, since they opted to take a different approach than many of their European neighbors. They brought in some recommendations and some restrictions but attempted to avoid major lockdowns. Some have hailed the approach as a success; others have stated it has been a failure. That’s an argument for another day; for our purposes, we only care about the data.
Sweden is interesting because it has some seasonal abnormalities. Specifically, there are typically big dips in usage over the summer months—these are unrelated to COVID. We see the same June–August reduction in WFH instances 2019. This could be a result of Sweden’s short winter days and longer summer days, meaning people try to make the most of their summers. While they did not undergo the same type of lockdowns as their neighbors, the data suggests Sweden also experienced a substantial WFH initiative and it never trended downwards (except for their summer seasonality).
Now, let’s contrast the previous datasets with one from New Zealand. New Zealand famously took a hard-line approach to keeping the virus out of the country and containing it whenever it presented itself. In this instance, the COVID cases are presented in blue. Rather interesting is that we see an initial spike in people using remote access solutions, but a quick decline and a return to relative “normality” as far as workstyles are concerned. We can see, just like in Ireland and the U.S., it appears Christmastime is down time for many. New Zealand started to see a significant increase in COVID cases going into Q4 2021. Here, we can see greater adoption of remote work. The data suggests that New Zealand was able to continue normal work practices for most of the 2020 and 2021, but Delta and Omicron were likely harder to contain. This led to the need to change workstyles more dramatically, but the speed with which they ramped up remote work suggests they may have benefited by how well they controlled the virus in its early stages. They had the time to put processes and infrastructure in place to adequately support the effort.
New Zealand’s neighbours in Australia had a somewhat similar path, with a similar hard-line approach to keeping the virus out of the country and being able to quickly contain any cases. Our data shows a steady trend from 2019 all the way to the end of 2021, as though workstyles were not affected or influenced by the pandemic. Having said that, clearly the cases (in blue shading) appear to have hit their first significant increase at the end of 2021. As the trends show, it appears the Christmas period is one of down time, so the 2022 data may show a change in response to the large increase.
We found the data interesting. We have been at the forefront of helping IT teams optimize remote work environments for many years, so we thought it would be cool to provide a glimpse at the trends we can see in our large dataset, representing work from home adoption over the last two years. . Now that organizations have seen that remote work works and works well, it is time to embrace it and to commit to it by looking at ways to improve the digital experience for employees. Work from anywhere is now a way of life for millions, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.