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Employers' return to work plans stymied by uncertainty

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Almost six out of 10 employers report that their plans for the return to work are stymied by uncertainty — specifically, a lack of clarity on the right timing, and persistent questions about how to provide a safe environment for their employees.

Moreover, fully half report reluctance from their employees to return to work. The coronavirus has infected more than 2.6 million Americans (over 10.4 million globally), forcing many companies to operate in a remote environment for months. And with new coronavirus hotspots emerging in recent weeks, employers will have to shift their plans based not only on their office needs but also the health and needs of their employees.

These are key findings of new research conducted by Arizent, parent of American Banker, PaymentsSource, Bond Buyer, National Mortgage News and other titles, to understand how executives are planning to return to offices after months of operating remotely.

Read the full report here.

The report also found:

  • Three challenges stood above the rest when it came to organizations deciding if, how and when to resume normal business activities — uncertainty regarding the timing of returning to the office (57%), establishing new safety measures within the office environment (55%) and employee reluctance to return to work for fear of getting sick (50%).
  • While other factors did resonate with employers, such as maintaining compliance with health laws (27%) and employee burnout/mental health (26%), they were significantly lower in priority.
  • As employers are developing plans for a return to an office environment, they are weighing employee feedback (30%), risk avoidance (21%) and cost reductions (13%).
  • Priorities varied based on company size. Risk avoidance is the top consideration for future office plans among mid- to large-sized companies (100-999 employees and 1,000+ employees, respectively) while smaller employers, with less than 100 staff, are more likely to rely on employee feedback.
  • The majority of employees, regardless of industry, have shifted from an office to a work from home (WFH) environment as a result of the pandemic. Among those now in a WFH situation, about one-third (32%) reported that this was a new experience for them.
  • Despite the relative safety of being remote, there is the danger of employee burnout — about half of WFH employees (47%) reported working longer hours. However, longer hours don’t necessarily mean employees in a WFH situation want to return to an office building, as almost four-fifths are very interested (48%) or somewhat interested (30%) in continuing to do their jobs at home.

This Arzient research is the third installment in a four-part series that began in late March as businesses were first transitioning into remote environments. The first survey studied preparedness levels, followed by a second survey in May that checked on how businesses were adjusting to the new challenges of operating remotely.

A fourth and final survey is planned for late summer and will focus on how COVID-19 is accelerating disruption in their industries.

Arizent conducted the Wave 3 survey of 430 executives during June 12-22, 2020, across an array of sectors including financial services, wealth management and professional services. About 175 of the survey respondents were C-level executives and senior managers representing employers with decision-making abilities on their companies’ return to work plans. The remaining 255 respondents were employees over whom decisions would be implemented and their lives directly impacted.

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