Over the past 30 or so years, with the advent of the internet along with various technologies that make use of it (e.g., email, video chat, etc.), organizations have become increasingly interested in the viability of a remote workplace. In 2020, the pandemic forced many businesses to test it out. Employees were told to get their work done from home and in-person communication was replaced by email, phone calls, and video chatting.
Now that this unintended field experiment has been going on for over a year, business leaders have developed well-informed opinions about how they plan to run their organizations in the coming years, and in particular, how much of it will involve remote operations and office downsizing. In order to capture their reactions, the 2021 CEO Outlook Pulse Survey asked 500 CEOs from the world’s most influential companies to provide their three-year outlook on the economic and business landscape, as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the results are surprising.
The findings of this survey seem to indicate that for many businesses, a fully remote workplace is not here to stay. Seventy-six percent of CEOs expect their business to return to “normal” by sometime in 2022. Only 30% of respondents are considering a hybrid model of working for their staff, where most employees work remotely two to three days a week.
Given that many CEOs find remote work less than ideal for much of their operations, it has become clear that they will not be scaling back their office footprints as drastically as originally anticipated. Sixty-nine percent of CEOs surveyed in August 2020 said they planned to reduce their office space over three years. According to this year’s findings, only 17% of CEOs are looking to downsize their organizations office space as a result of the pandemic. This shows that either office downsizings have already taken place or, as the pandemic has drawn on, strategies have changed.
Upshots For Employee Well-Being
Overall, this is good news for corporate real estate and property owners. There appears to be little reason for them to worry that a significant proportion of business will decrease the size of their offices or get rid of them entirely. This is likely good news for many employees as well. However, given that the return to normal will take time, and that for many employees, remote work came with indispensable advantages like additional flexibility when dealing with familial and relational responsibilities, employee wellness must be kept in mind before, during, and after the transition occurs.
Depending on each business’s particular plan for returning to normal, different things will need to be done in order to protect and preserve the well-being of their employees. However, given the general consensus that things will eventually return to normal, albeit in a couple of years’ time, certain wellness practices will be beneficial to a wide range of organizations.
First off, employers must continue to take measures to ease the stress of remote work. This means that they should continue to provide mental health support and services or start to provide them if they don’t already. Moreover, they need to ensure that employees are aware of these services and are comfortable taking advantage of them. Furthermore, as more employees become fully vaccinated, business should begin to schedule outings and retreats to allow employees to reconnect and socialize.
Additionally, companies should start to think about how to make the transition back to an in-person work environment as smooth as possible. Despite the fact that remote work has come with its own set of stressors, it has also come with certain benefits that employees might struggle to let go of when the time comes to go back into the office. To combat this, companies should work more flexibility into their workday structure. Moreover, the transition should occur slowly. This can be accomplished by limiting the number of employees at the office along with the number of hours that they spend there at the beginning of the transition. As this happens, employers should be mindful of the difficulties that may come with the transition and be on the lookout for signs of mental and emotional struggles.