OMAHA — While remote workers have multiplied since the onset of the pandemic, a new survey of Nebraska businesses suggests local trends may have leveled off.
“Remote work has grown, but managers don’t expect it to grow further next year,” said Eric Thompson, an economist who led the study. “On the other hand, they don’t think it’s temporary. They This growth is expected to continue.”
Growth exceeds planned contraction
Another interesting twist: Half of the businesses surveyed want to maintain office space not only for in-house employees, but also for remote employees if they report to the office.
For the most part, respondents did not reduce their body digging after COVID-19. Instead, nearly 90 percent said they had not changed acreage since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020. Just over 7% said they had increased their area and 3.7% said they had reduced their physical residence.
When asked about the coming year, nearly 11 percent expect their office space to grow, while only 3 percent say they may get smaller.
The newly released report, “Nebraska Space Use Survey: Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was written by Thompson and Mitch Herian of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Bureau of Business Research.
Explore attitudes, trends
It was completed on behalf of the Nebraska Business Development Center and the U.S. Small Business Administration to explore attitudes to remote work and the changing space needs of service businesses.
The types of businesses that participated in the survey included financial, information, professional, educational support and technology services.
The survey did not cover commodity manufacturers, retailers, transportation or healthcare businesses.
About 300 questionnaires were answered, with a response rate of nearly 19%. The samples were representative of various sizes and locations. About 58% of respondents said they own the property where their business is located.
Face-to-face work remains highly valued
Notable findings include:
- Of the businesses surveyed, nearly 28 percent felt more comfortable allowing remote work since the pandemic began, while about 13 percent were less comfortable. The remaining 59% said their feelings had not changed.
- Urban areas are more comfortable. About 35 percent of respondents in Omaha or Lincoln felt more comfortable working remotely, compared with 19 percent in smaller areas.
- Even with the increased comfort level, a clear majority of nearly 79% of respondents agree or strongly agree that in-person work is critical to running a company.
NBDC executive director Catherine Lang said the data collected provided a way to measure attitudes towards remote work.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the way Nebraskans work,” she said.
According to the survey, the vast majority of employees (over 80%) still work full-time in the office, but the number of people working remotely has increased significantly.
The percentage of people working from home at least part-time jumped from nearly 11% before COVID to about 17% at the end of the survey a few weeks ago.
Looking ahead to the year ahead, though, respondents do not expect real changes in the share of remote workers, at least in the short term.
“Except for Elon Musk,” Thompson quipped, “it’s interesting that the growth in remote work appears to be sustainable.”
Ironically, Musk issued orders this week to the staff of his recently purchased Twitter social network. The billionaire said he will end the work-from-anywhere arrangement when he takes over and will approve exceptions on a case-by-case basis.
Thompson, director of the Bureau of Business Research, said one of the biggest takeaways from the survey is that many business leaders want to reserve physical space for employees when they show up in person. And, he said, it’s worth noting that remote work and increased manager comfort “do not actually translate into widespread reductions in office space usage.”
One potential reason why companies are not planning for change could be logistical issues, according to the study leaders. Of the 58% of respondents who own their workplace, 67% do not rent to other tenants, raising the possibility that they may have difficulty changing the number of spaces, especially after the pandemic.
Part of the reason for the increased comfort of working remotely may be labor shortages and employers’ desire to be sensitive and responsive to the wishes of their employees, Thompson said.
“Certainly because of the recent hiring challenges,” Thompson said, “they have an extra incentive to keep an open mind.”
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