COVID leaves lasting effect on offices

Corporate America is reopening its offices as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes.

But many workers won’t be there.

Seventy-two percent of companies say employees will be able to return to the workplace over the next five months, with 50% reopening between August and October, according to a Conference Board survey of 231 human resource leaders April 5-16. The results were provided exclusively to USA TODAY.

Yet 79% of the mostly large businesses say 10% or more of their employees will be able to work remotely at least three days a week a year as the pandemic subsides. That compares with 26% of firms that permitted staffers to primarily work from home before the health crisis.

Nearly nine in 10 of the HR executives surveyed say they’re also willing to hire remote employees around the country or globe in some form, compared with about half before the outbreak.

Overall, the survey depicts an American workplace that will be transformed for the longer term as a result of the pandemic.

Remote work is here to say

“Remote work is really going to stay here,” says Frank Steemers, senior economist for the Conference Board. It’s “probably going to be one of the main organizational legacies of the pandemic.”  

Employers are embracing teleworking at least in part because they’re reporting that productivity has increased during the crisis, the survey shows, though the higher output is taking a toll on the mental health and well-being of workers.

“I think the mental health issue will be another huge impact of COVID,” says Robin Erickson, principal researcher in Human Capital for the Conference Board.

Further fueling the telecommuting movement are nationwide worker shortages that are giving employees more leverage over how and where they work. That’s also forcing companies to hunt for staffers who will have the flexibility to work from wherever they happen to be – across the country and even the world. A large share of the companies surveyed say they’re struggling to find and retain qualified workers.

Working harder from home

Some companies are all in on remote work. Thirty-eight percent of the organizations surveyed said 40% or more of their employees will chiefly work from home a year after COVID-19 fades, meaning over the long term. The figure has doubled since the Conference Board’s April 2020 survey. Before the pandemic, just 5% of businesses allowed that many staffers to telework.  

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