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For employees who hope to keep working remotely at least a couple of days a week even after the pandemic ends, business leaders have a stark warning for them: not so fast.

A large majority of chief executive officers worldwide don’t expect their employees to work remotely even two to three days a week after the pandemic subsides, according to a survey by accounting firm KPMG.

Seventy percent of 500 CEOs polled in the 2021 CEO Outlook Pulse Survey plan to have most staff working from the office once the health crisis ends, it said.

That finding clashes with the expectations of many employees. More than 70 percent of workers want to continue to work remotely at least partially even after it’s considered safe to return to the office, according to a 2021 work trend survey by Microsoft.

At the same time, while some companies such as Salesforce and Target announced this year that they plan to cut back on office space because of remote work, the KPMG survey found that just 17 percent of CEOS polled in February and March 2021 now plan to downsize their company’s physical footprint. That’s way down from August of last year, when 69 percent of those surveyed said they planned to shrink office space, further signaling businesses are reconsidering long-term remote work for their staff.

That said, almost half (45 percent) of the CEOs polled don’t expect “normality” to resume until “sometime” in 2022 because of concerns about access to Covid-19 vaccines for workers. About 31 percent predict a return to normalcy this year and about a quarter (24 percent) feel that their business “has changed forever,” the survey said.

Vaccine rollout concerns

“Before any major decisions are made, CEOs want to be confident that their workforce is protected against this virus,” Bill Thomas, global chairman and CEO of KPMG, said in the study. “The Covid-19 vaccine rollout is providing leaders with a dose of optimism as they prepare for a new reality. CEOs are scenario planning for certain key markets that may experience vaccine shortages that could impact their operations, supply chains and people, leading to uneven economic recovery.”

More than half (55 percent) of business leaders are worried that not all of their employees will have access to a vaccine, “which could put their operations or certain markets at a competitive disadvantage,” the survey said.

“As a result, 61 percent of companies will await a successful vaccine rollout in key markets before they ask staff to return to the office,” it added. “Prudently, three-quarters (76 percent) of companies will wait for governments in key markets to encourage businesses to return to normal, whereas just 5 percent will do so based on the actions by their competitors or similar businesses.”

In addition, a large majority (90 percent) of CEOs will ask employees to report when they have been vaccinated, the poll showed. One-third (34 percent) of the executives are “concerned about misinformation on Covid vaccine safety and the potential this may have on employees choosing not to have it administered,” it said.

Office safety also is expected to be a top priority for CEOs once workers begin returning to the office.

Twenty-one percent of companies will ask clients and visitors to their facilities only if they have been vaccinated, the poll found.

Leaders don’t expect business travel to pick up anytime soon, with 26 percent planning to reduce international travel until the pandemic is over, according to the survey.

CEOs also identified the greatest risk to their company’s growth over the next three years, with cybersecurity ranking as the top risk, moving from fifth place in August 2020.

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