The Covid-19 pandemic precipitated a sudden disruption in the workplace as stay at home mandates took hold in March of this year. Remote working was broadly implemented across many industries, and only recently have restrictions been eased in many areas hit hard by the virus to allow offices to re-open, if only on a limited basis.
Last month, The Fixed Income Investor Network surveyed its membership to get their views on what a return to work might look like. The survey’s aim was to discover when people will return to the office on a regular basis and what they expect to change. In addition, the survey sought to gauge sentiment about work related travel and the effectiveness of virtual meetings and events that have emerged as substitutes for in-person gatherings. Most respondents are located in the US (84%) with 60% concentrated in the Northeast.
The first questions were focused on the status of office openings and occupancy. At the close of the survey in August, 53% of respondents reported that their offices were currently closed. Of the remainder, occupancy was low, with less than 25% of company staff physically in the office. Asked when it is expected that offices will reach 75% occupancy, most responded that would not happen until Q1 2021 or later. In fact, over 10% suggested their offices will not reach 75% of pre-Covid-19 occupancy levels in the foreseeable future.
Asked what factors need to be in place prior to offices reaching 75% occupancy, over 50% indicated that virus levels will need to be below pre lockdown levels. Nearly as many responded that new office configurations, safety protocols, ventilation and other facilities upgrades would need to be in place. Two-thirds replied that they expect a reduction of desk capacity be implemented. Once again, several members indicated that office occupancy is unlikely to reach 75% at all.
Remote working has proved effective for many firms since restrictions were put in place. Given that and the fact many surveyed do not foresee office occupancy returning to pre-Covid-19 levels, we asked how likely firms are to reduce their office footprint. Nearly 40% responded that a reduction was very likely, with another 14% suggesting that the possibility was somewhat likely. When asked how company policies would change regarding remote working, 50% said they expect remote working to be permissible with new guidelines, while over 25% said they expect remote working to be encouraged going forward.
We asked members about their own preferences for returning to the office. The majority (44%) replied that would prefer not to return until sometime in 2021. On the other hand, nearly 40% of respondents indicated that they had already returned to work or would be back in the office by the end of the year. 17% responded that would prefer to work remotely indefinitely.
In-person meetings and conferences and the related travel are important facets of work for many. When asked about business travel within the next 6 months, over 75% of respondents said they were unlikely to do so. Understandably, the main factors influencing travel decisions included the slowdown of Covid-19 spread in the US and worldwide.
With travel restrictions presently in place now and for some time, we asked members about the effectiveness of virtual substitutes for meetings, etc. Overall, sentiment was positive about the virtual landscape. Virtual conferences were generally regarded effective or very effective by about 70% of the respondents, while a small minority (11%) found them not effective at all. When asked about the effectiveness of virtual client/issuer meetings, the results were similar as 75% found them to be effective, with half of those responding that the meetings were very effective or extremely effective.