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Nearly 75 Percent of Remote Workers Eager to Return to the Office

Employers make changes in anticipation of first return-to-work wave

A woman wearing a face mask cleaning a laptop.

​A majority of homebound workers are keen to get back to their workplace.

That's according to employer review site Glassdoor, which found that 72 percent of over 1,100 employed U.S. adults said they are ready to return to their company's office. More men (79 percent) than women (61 percent) said they were enthusiastic about getting back to the worksite, and 45 percent expect to return to be working in their company's office in some capacity this summer. Socializing with co-workers (52 percent) and collaborating in person (46 percent) topped the list of reasons employees said they wish to return to their office.

The survey was conducted April 29-May 1 by The Harris Poll on behalf of Glassdoor.

When Is the Right Time to Reopen?

Eighty-three percent of respondents to the Glassdoor survey said they trust their company's leadership to make an informed decision about when to reopen the office.

There's no single right time or way to reopen that applies to all employers, said Carina Cortez, Glassdoor's chief people officer. "While many workers are eager to return to the office, employers considering reopening offices should clearly communicate that the workplace is going to look very different, and keep employees informed on what that means for them. Employers must closely monitor local guidelines and listen to their employees to ensure they are meeting the needs of the people that fuel their business."

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Coronavirus and COVID-19

It's critical that employers keep their employees' well-being, needs and wants in mind as they decide whether to reopen offices or extend remote work options, said Natalie Baumgartner, chief workforce scientist at Achievers, an employee engagement and recognition platform in Toronto.

Citing another survey conducted in May among 1,100 workers, Baumgartner said that many employees are feeling anxious about returning to the workplace, necessitating organizations to take steps "to ensure that employees feel safe, comfortable and supported during this next phase of work."

She recommended employers first gather feedback from their workforce on what matters most to them. Maintaining communication about reopening plans is also vital. "Employees need to feel that they are kept in the loop when it comes to business decisions that will directly impact them," Baumgartner said. "To be effective, communication from leadership needs to be empathetic and take into account employees' unique circumstances." 

Making Changes to the Workplace

U.S. companies are making a series of workplace changes as they prepare for employees to return to their workplaces, according to a new survey of employers by Willis Towers Watson, a global risk management and advisory company.

The survey of 681 larger employers representing over 7 million workers, conducted in May, found 74 percent plan to modify workplaces, practices and policies.

"Physically, many workplaces will look different as companies seek to create safe working environments for their employees," said Ravin Jesuthasan, managing director and global leader, Work and Rewards, Willis Towers Watson.

Social distancing protocols will have significant implications on workplace culture in the months ahead, with some examples being touchless payment systems, virtual services rather than in person, more physical space between workers and modified work schedules to limit employee contact.

According to the Glassdoor poll, 79 percent of respondents expect their employer to provide disinfectant or hand sanitizer. Over half (54 percent) want to see mask and glove requirements in the office, 45 percent expect their employer to space out workstations at least six feet from co-workers, and 38 percent want employee temperature checks initiated.

Some organizations are making larger changes with longer-lasting consequences. About 30 percent of employers in the Willis Towers Watson survey have moved work to different jobs, such as a utility company shifting traditional field operations' data collection work to employees in data centers using sensors and drones, Jesuthasan said.

He added that some employers have started outsourcing work or using gig talent for work that was typically done by full-time employees. "Organizations have been tapping gig workers to handle a spike in demand—a bank's call centers, for example—or a change in customer engagement, such as markets that have gone online and using gig talent to enable direct delivery to customers."

He said that he expects to see some companies accelerate their use of automation for repetitive or dangerous tasks.

"The use of workplace automation will definitely be accelerated by recent events that demand social distancing," said Richard Pak, a psychology professor at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., who researches the psychological factors around automation. Before COVID-19, automation had been gradually replacing human work as companies looked to cut labor costs and improve profit.

"Automation will primarily be focused on technologies that can enhance actual and perceived safety and well-being by employees and customers," Pak said. "For example, semi-autonomous robots can carry out frequent cleaning or disinfection so that front-line workers can focus on other tasks. Other kinds of automation might be able to detect whether employees are properly social distancing or whether employees are properly masked. Soon, as AI and automation become more sophisticated, people may be increasingly interacting with teammates that are AI-based, not human."

WFH as the Future of Work  

The Willis Towers Watson survey shows that employers expect the percentage of their full-time workforce who work from home (WFH) to be three times larger after the pandemic than before it began.

Respondents said that just over half (53 percent) of their full-time employees are currently working remotely. That percentage is expected to drop to 22 percent after the pandemic passes but would still be up significantly from the 7 percent recorded before the emergence of COVID-19.

"Although the economy is still in upheaval, one thing is clear: Remote working is here to stay," said Adrienne Altman, North America head, Work and Rewards, Willis Towers Watson. "One of the many challenges facing employers is to what extent do they keep remote working policies in place and how do they support employees who make the shift permanent. Each employer will need to determine if this is a long-term strategy that is right for them."

Employers will need to be ready to handle the inevitable requests to continue working from home once the return-to-work shift begins, especially as states start to reopen without a proven treatment or a vaccine for the coronavirus, said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of global outplacement and executive and business coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas in Chicago.

Challenger said that one of the biggest barriers to returning to the office for many employees is child care. Some workers will continue to have day care issues because they are uncomfortable sending children back to child care providers, or those providers are closed.

"How and where the nation's employees work will depend a lot on what happens with their children," he said. "If elementary school children will be learning from home, many parents will need to continue working from home. Employers will need to create policies for workers who are uncomfortable with the risk of returning their children to schools or day care centers that are reopening while cases of COVID-19 are still being reported."

Meanwhile, both managers and those they supervise are growing weary of working from home in some cases, he said. "There are concerns regarding the negative effects on efficiency and profitability. Managers also worry about employee burnout, with workers juggling family commitments while also trying to work full time at home, as well as mental health issues caused by prolonged isolation."


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