In survey after survey, most employees have indicated that they want to continue working remotely in some capacity once the pandemic ends. If office-space closures are an indication, U.S. employers appear to be acquiescing, if only to cut costs.
According to a survey conducted in early September by Digital.com, 69 percent of all U.S. businesses have permanently closed some or all of their office space since the March 2020 start of the pandemic, which forced them to send staff to work from home.
At the same time, more than half (51 percent) of businesses plan to keep office space but will allow employees to work remotely indefinitely, the report found.
More than a third (37 percent) have permanently closed all office space, and 39 percent expect to shutter some or all of their workspaces within the next six months, according to the study.
Still, more businesses are closing offices to curb expenses than for Covid safety reasons, the survey said.
Fifty-three percent of companies dropped their office space to save money, while less than half (45 percent) of businesses said they closed their offices to protect the health of their employees, the report revealed.
‘Happier, healthier’ remote workforce
For business owners like Andrew Ehlert of Raleigh, North Carolina, the benefits of taking his digital marketing consulting company entirely remote were too numerous to ignore.
“My team proved that they could maintain their workload while working from home,” Ehlert was cited as saying in the report. He surveyed his staff on the question of shutting down the company’s office space before making his decision.
“Eight of my team members said they would rather work from home because they are happier, healthier and even get more work done,” he added. “As long as my employees get their work done in an efficient, effective manner, I’m happy to let them work remotely.”
Those sentiments were also present in the survey results. When asked why the respondents closed their offices, the top reason was that employees wanted to permanently work from home (69 percent).
Still, only 16 percent of poll respondents who permanently closed all of their office space said there were no benefits to having employees in the office. Many businesses say they still see value in retaining office space, citing improved productivity (68 percent), improved creativity (55 percent) and improved communications (52 percent).
Accommodating both sides
Wise Dollar Insurance, a brokerage firm based in Arizona, is allowing employees to return to work in person on a flexible basis, according to Michael Ell, the company’s founder and CEO. He says in-office work still has advantages over remote work.
“People learn more when collaborating in person,” Ell told Digital.com. “Questions can be asked before, during and after meetings. Quick sidebar conversations in the hallway become major initiatives. And that doesn’t happen through Zoom. When you share an office space with colleagues and customers, you can create trust and relationships that might not be possible without the face to face.”
Some companies, such as the Canadian decontamination service Mold Busters, couldn’t get rid of their physical locations even if they wanted to. Mold Busters, for example, needs areas to store their equipment. Still, it sees value in offering a hybrid work model.
“During the lockdown, some of our employees thrived working remotely, but many others needed the energy that can only be derived from a team working toward a common goal in the same space,” Chief Operations Officer Charles Leduc said in the report. “Once we knew how to reopen safely, we started running a hybrid workplace to accommodate both sides.”
Almost a fifth (17 percent) of those surveyed by Digital.com said they planned to offer a hybrid model.
The survey, conducted in mid-August, polled 1,250 U.S. business owners who had a staff working from an on-site office space prior to the pandemic.