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Will companies allow employees to work from home after the pandemic?

The Conference Board finds that many will

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If you have been working from home (WFH) during the last year and prefer it, a new report from the Conference Board says there’s a good chance you’ll be able to continue doing so.

What became a necessity at the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic last year worked out better than anyone expected. But Conference Board analysts say the corporate world has yet to reach a consensus on whether the WFH trend will be permanent.

Calling remote work “COVID-19’s biggest legacy,” the Conference Board report confirms that a sea change in thinking has taken place over the past year. At the beginning of 2020, only about 8 percent of office workers were allowed to perform their jobs from home. The thinking among executives was simple: if workers are not doing their jobs in an office setting, they will be less productive.

As WFH became nearly universal, almost overnight, those fears failed to materialize. With the promise of widespread vaccinations in the coming weeks, companies are balancing their desire to reopen offices with the prospect of reduced spending on office space and the ability to recruit employees who prefer not to relocate.

"Remote work worked in 2020, with workers and employers reporting increased productivity on recent surveys," said Gad Levanon, vice president of Labor Markets at The Conference Board. "But 2020 was also a year like no other, full of stressors likely to drive employees to work harder and longer.”

Maintaining productivity

So the question is whether the level of productivity companies got from their homebound employees during the pandemic can be sustained. The report says companies will likely consider that before making a decision on WFH’s future.

Dana Peterson, chief economist of The Conference Board, believes companies that continue WFH policies will benefit and could potentially transform the U.S. economy.

"If WFH trends hold, millions of workers may relocate over the next decade in search of lower living expenses and higher quality of life,” she said. “As employees disperse beyond commuter zones, companies may find it increasingly difficult to reverse a decision to embrace remote work."

HR executives see WFH continuing

The Conference Board analysts consulted human resource (HR) executives at companies across the country and found that about one-third expected their companies to allow 40 percent of their employees to work remotely once the pandemic has ended. Occupations that had already been trending toward remote work before the pandemic were among the least likely to return to the office. 

A permanent WFH structure holds many benefits for families. A two-car family may decide it can get by with a single vehicle, lowering finance and insurance costs. 

Other savings may be accrued through reduced transportation costs and less spending on business attire and food away from home.

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