Post-Pandemic Business Offices May Remain Empty

Chriss Swaney

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – The business world is reopening its offices as the COVID-19 pandemic slows down. But Carol Galle, CEO of Detroit-based Special D Events, says many workers will simply not be there.

Galle said sales dwindled to near nothing early in the pandemic, forcing her to cut more than half of her 19 staffers and focus on virtual events. But she reports that in-person events are starting to come back. “We’re all working more hours. I have had to permanently switch my staff to remote work. I think people are now using their commute time to do more work,” said Galle, whose company specializes in national, strategic, virtual and in-person events.

Seventy-two percent of companies report that employees will be able to return to the workplace over the next five months, with 50 percent reopening between August and October, according to the Conference Board. More than 1 out of three human resource leaders surveyed by the Conference Board expect 40 percent or more of their workforce to be primarily remote after the pandemic subsides – compared to just 1 in 20 before COVID-19.

Experts warn that occupations that had already been trending toward remote work before the pandemic are among the least likely to return to the office. These include computer and mathematical (68 percent work from home due to the COVID-19, as of January 2021), legal (58 percent), and business and financial operations (54 percent).

And online job listings are beginning to reveal how fully remote work is woven into the fabric of labor markets in key fields. An April 2021 analysis found 10.8 percent of ads for actuaries and 8 percent for software developers now mention “work from home” – up from less than 2 percent a year ago. The survey also found that individual contributors (20 percent) and front line managers (21 percent) are most likely to return to work, only 4 percent of C-suite executives felt the same about returning to work in the office.

Still, Galle said workers do miss the “prairie dog effect” where a neighboring worker pops his or her head up over the office cubicle to chime in with a helpful problem-solving tip. And the old water cooler chats to boost morale are also part of the office culture that workers most miss.

“I can hire anyone from anyplace with the remote office culture now, but there does come a point when you have to meet face-to-face to establish some kind of office culture and working relationship,” said Galle.

There are also other downsides to working from home. Trying to meet on ZOOM from a kitchen table with noisy children and annoyed spouses complaining in the background is hardly an ideal setting for good productivity. Women report that video calls make it harder for them to get in a word during meetings dominated by men. This crisis has also increased the burdens on working mothers.

Pam Winslow of Jeannette, Pa. said she has to juggle the schedule of twin baby boys when she tries to do a ZOOM meeting from the nursery. “But I’m still lucky to be at home. I can’t image even heading back to the marketing office with these kids in tow,” she added.

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