An eightfold increase in the number of Russians working remotely amidst coronavirus isolation has been almost seamless. Respondents say they possessed enough skills to cope with the situation; the lacking skills were mastered quickly.
MOSCOW, May 15, 2020. Marking World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, Russian Public Opinion Research Centre and Social Business Group present the results of a study on how many Russians switched to remote work due to COVID-19, and what digital skills they had to learn.
ü In terms of digital competence Russians were divided into four groups: highly competent (30%), those with above-average competence (32%), those with below-average competence (18%), and low-competent (21%). The higher the respondent’s level of digital competence, the more likely he/she is to be able to work remotely. However, most of respondents were satisfied with the level of digital competence they have (60%).
ü Of all popular digital skills, taking photos with a phone or other gadgets, searching the Internet for information, creating videos with a smartphone/camera or another gadget, communicating via messengers, using emails are those digital skills most of Russians say they are good at. Less common skills are setting and configuring software, editing photos and images, creating PowerPoint presentations, phone/computer video editing.
ü Coronavirus has prompted Russians to switch to remote work: only 2% of Russians worked remotely before the pandemic, but today 16% of respondents switched to remote work partially or completely. Those who work from home are specialists with higher education employed in public and commercial sectors and residents of both capitals and million-plus cities. However almost one-third of Russians have not changed their mode of work because of the pandemic.
ü 61% of those who switched to remote mode of work give negative assessments; 36% assess this shift in a positive way. The advantages of working from home are reduced commute time and flexible hours; the disadvantages are the absence of direct communication with people, when it is needed, and problems of self-organization at home.
ü Most of Russians who shifted to remote work did not need to learn any new skill (81%). Those who did had to master new software, such as messengers and video conferencing tools.
Attitudes of Russians towards shift to remote work
The rapid spread of COVID-19 as declared by World Health organization on March 11, 2020 became a pandemic. As many other countries Russia, ranked second in terms of official COVID cases (data of the Center for Systems Science and Engineering), has taken measures to restrict interpersonal interactions to fight the spread of coronavirus. Shift to remote work is one of consequences of the measures taken.
According to the results of the study among adult Russians (18+), conducted on April 30, 16% of respondents switched to remote work, including 9% completely and 7% partially. The mode of work did not change for 29% of respondents: 27% were still performing their duties in office, 2% were working remotely, as before the pandemic.
Currently, 54% of Russians are not working. Remarkably, this group comprises both those who did not work before the restrictions (such as retired persons, students, etc.) and those who stopped working due to restrictions. It was difficult to define the number of the latter, however 7% of all the surveyed said they were employed though not working, whereas 10% said they were “temporarily unemployed or unemployed”. Obviously, some of them became unemployed during preceding month and a half.
The share of those who shifted to remote work depends on the worker category. This share is higher among those employees who have higher education diploma and work in the budget sector (60%; including 47% of those who completely switched to remote work and 13%, partially). As to respondents with higher education background working in the commercial sector the share of those who shifted to remote-work mode is 51%.
A total number of workers performing their duties remotely is different depending on the size of settlement (large, average or small): 29% in Moscow and St Petersburg, 21% in million-plus cities (excluding metropolitan cities), and 10% in rural area (fig.1).
Let us consider how employees working remotely assess this mode of work (fig. 2). Respondents in this category tend to express negative opinions (61%) rather than positive (36%) towards remote work.
Those who like working remotely explain that they do not need to spend time commuting (31%). Twenty-six percent of respondents appreciate flexible hours and an ability to arrange their time at their own discretion. A further 17% think staying at home is more comfortable; 13% say they have more spare time. (fig. 2).
Three out of ten respondents who dislike working remotely say that their job requires direct contact with people; 15% of such respondents also say that it is more difficult to them to stay focused when working from home. According to 11% of respondents, it is impossible to work efficiently from home; every tenth says he/she is bored with working from home. Eight percent of respondents complain about increased amount of work; 7% point to difficulties combining work space and private space; the same percentage of Russians mention poor Internet connection and slow computer (fig. 3).
Self-assessment of the digital skill level
As a rule, effective organization of remote work is related to the use of technologies enabling to produce, spread and consume information in a digital format. To do so, people need to be digitally competent.
The study also attempted to measure the level of digital skills Russians possess. A list of 17 common digital skills used both in a daily life and professional environment was drawn up.
Each competence was to be assessed using a 5-point scale (how well a certain activity can be performed by a respondent), with 1 being “not competent at all”, and 5 being “very competent”. This was followed by k-means cluster analysis to reveal homogeneous groups of Russians depending on the levels of skills.
The method allows tackling two issues. Firstly, the competencies themselves were divided into four groups depending on Russian self-assessment levels. Secondly, another four groups of Russians with different self-assessments of various digital skills were singled out.
The first group of skills involved five digital skills mastered by respondents at the highest levels, according to their self-assessments. They are as follows:
· Ability to take photos using smartphone or another gadget (55% highly skilled; 13% are not skilled at all);
· Ability to search the Internet for information (Yandex, Google, Bin, etc.) (53% are highly skilled; 15% are not skilled at all);
· Ability to create videos using a smartphone/camera or another gadget (48% are highly skilled; 14% are not skilled at all);
· Messaging / calling (using Telegram, WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, Microsoft Teams, etc.) (49% are highly skilled; 18% are not skilled at all);
· E-mail communication skills (48% are highly skilled; 24% are not skilled at all).
The second group characterized by a relatively low level of digital competence includes:
· Ability to perform online financial operations and/or to use mobile banking (42% are highly skilled; 23% are not skilled at all);
· Ability to scan, print documents/pictures using a printer, scanner (44% are highly skilled; 27% are not skilled at all);
· Ability to use social media (VKontakte, Onoklassniki, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Moi Mir, LiveJournal, etc.) (38% are highly skilled; 20% are not skilled at all);
· Ability to save, copy or archive files on a computer/laptop/smartphone (41% are highly skilled; 26% are not skilled at all).
The skills in the third group were assessed even lower by respondents:
· Ability to use text editors (Microsoft Word, Open Office Writer, etc.) (30% are highly skilled; 33% are not skilled at all);
· Ability to use antivirus software and other data protection tools (settings, scanning and removing files, etc.) (19% are highly skilled; 35% are not skilled at all);
· Ability to work with Excel tables (Microsoft Excel, Open Office Cal, etc.) (19% are highly skilled; 38% are not skilled at all);
· Ability to upload files, documents to the Internet (f.e. cloud storage — Google Disc, Cloud Mail, etc.) (23% are highly skilled; 38% are not skilled at all).
And finally, the fourth group refers to the digital skills least of Russians possess:
· Ability to install and configure software (on computer, mobile phone, etc.) (16% are highly skilled; 41% are not skilled at all);
· Ability to edit photos, images (f.e. using Adobe Photoshop or filters in smartphone/computer) ( 15% are highly skilled; 39% are not skilled at all);
· Ability to create PowerPoint files (f.e. Microsoft PowerPoint, Open Office Impress, Prezi, etc.) (15% are highly skilled; 46% are not skilled at all);
· Ability to edit video on smartphone/laptop/computer (10% are highly skilled; 47% are not skilled at all).
Now let us consider the four groups of Russians differing by the subjective levels of different digital skills (fig. 4).
The first group involves Russians with high level of digital competence. This share among all the respondents is 32%; their average age is 36. The share of those respondents who switched to working from home is 28%.
The second group includes Russians who have a level of digital competence above average. This share is 30% (the largest group across all clusters singled out). They are basically aged 45. Seventeen percent of respondents switched to remote working.
The third group of Russians refers to those Russians who have a level of digital competence below average. This share is 18%. The average age is 54. Nine percent of respondents switched to remote working.
The fourth group is represented by Russians with low level of digital competence. The share is 20%. The group involves mainly older respondents (with an average age of 64 y.o.) and basically women (62% of female respondents; as to the remainder clusters, the male-female ratio is close the sample mean distribution). Three percent of respondents switched to remote working.
The obtained results lead to the following conclusion: the higher the level of digital competence, the higher the chances of shifting to remote work.
Satisfaction with the level of digital competence
To what extent are Russians satisfied with their current level of digital competence? About two out of three respondents consider the level to be sufficient (28% - “definitely sufficient”; 38% “likely to be sufficient”). However, 30% say they are lacking digital competence. Four percent of respondents failed to give an answer.
Satisfaction with the level of digital competence is dependent on respondent’s age. Respondents aged 18-24 are most satisfied (82%); those aged 60+ are least satisfied (48%). The percentage is very low also among the rural area residents (57%) (fig. 5).
The respondents who switched to remote work were asked whether they had to learn new skills because of self-isolation. Nineteen percent of respondents gave affirmative answers; 81% responded negatively. Those who had to make efforts to acquire new skills are mainly respondents aged 45-59 (28%); young respondents aged 18-24 are least likely to have to learn new skills.
Most of Russians who switched to remote work had to learn how to use new software working from home (47%). Seventeen percent had to learn Zoom video conferencing tool; using computer, messengers and video conferencing was a challenge to 14%, 13% and 12%, respectively (fig. 6).
Russian VCIOM-Sputnik survey was conducted on April 30, 2020. Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,600 Russians aged 18 and older. A stratified dual-frame random sample based on a complete list of Russian landline and mobile phone numbers is used. The data were weighted according to selection probability and social and demographic characteristics. The margin of error at a 95% confidence level does not exceed 2.5%. In addition to sampling error, minor changes in question wording and different circumstances arising during the fieldwork can introduce bias into the survey.