When can employees expect to return to the office?

While many are temporarily working from home, research by the Conference Board heralds the return of pre-pandemic policies.

While a large number of companies transitioned to a work-from-home model in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including marketing departments and their advertising agencies, a relatively small proportion of them expect those measures to remain in place over time, according to new research from the Conference Board of Canada.

According to the independent research and analysis group, around 90% of organizations had less than 20% of their workforce working remotely prior to the pandemic. But the disruption of the novel coronavirus has essentially “flipped this on its head,” with nearly two-thirds of companies having at least 60% of their workforce working from home.

The Conference Board collected responses from a breadth of sectors and industries on June 22 as part of a series on COVID-19-related work and pay. It found that currently 18% of companies have between 60% to 79% of their employee base working from home, 30% are allowing 80% to 99% of their staff to work remotely, and 13% have gone entirely virtual. Pre-pandemic, there were zero businesses reporting having a fully-remote workforce.

In the medium term, 55% of respondents anticipate seeing half of their staff remain at home until there’s a vaccine, an effective treatment, or the risk associated with the virus has been “greatly reduced.” And while many are not yet sure what their plans will be in light of lasting uncertainty, early results suggest “many employees will eventually be called back to the workplace,” notes the industry group.

Also in the medium term, only 3% of organizations expect to have their entire workforce working remotely; 33% say most of their team and 19% say around 50% of employees will work from home. Those numbers drop in the long-term, with zero companies expecting all of their employees to work remotely, 4% of them expecting most of their staff to do so, and 12% anticipating half their employees to work outside of the office.

Meanwhile, a significant number of employers will continue to consider their approach and work-from-home policies, both in the medium term (38%) and the long term (71%). Among that group of companies that are considering their policies, 15% and 40% remain “unsure” about their medium-term and long-term plans, respectively. Between 20% and 30% expect to see roughly 50% of staff continue to work outside of the office, both in the medium term (28%) and long term (21%).

According to the Conference Board, employee safety remains a “top factor behind a more remote workforce. Other drivers include cost savings and supporting a work-life balance.”

It notes that, in response to concerns over productivity, more than half of organizations have made accommodations, allowing employees to take home essential equipment, such as computers, office supplies and desk chairs, to better set up their home workspaces. In addition, around 40% are providing allowances or are reimbursing at least a portion of home-office costs.

Photo by Djurdjica Boskovic on Unsplash.