A significant number of the nation's workers who have been forced to work from home because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic may find themselves permanently working from home, according to a new survey from research firm Gartner.
Gartner last week released results from a March 30 survey of 317 CFOs and business finance leaders that found 74 percent of those surveyed expect at least 5 percent of their workforce who previously worked in company offices will become permanent work-from-home employees after the pandemic ends.
The survey came in the wake of a push by the U.S. government to keep all nonessential employees away from their offices and from visiting customers as the primary way to promote social distancing to interrupt the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
According to Gartner, about 25 percent of those surveyed expect 10 percent of their employees will remain remote, 17 percent expect 20 percent will remain remote, 4 percent expect 50 percent will remain remote, and 2 percent expect over 50 percent of employees now working from home to permanently work from home after the pandemic subsides.
A big reason for this is a move by CFOs to find new ways to manage costs, said Alexander Bant, practice vice president of research for Gartner's finance practice, in a statement.
"CFOs, already under pressure to tightly manage costs, clearly sense an opportunity to realize the cost benefits of a remote workforce," Bant said in that statement. "In fact, nearly a quarter of respondents said they will move at least 20 percent of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions."
Gartner in an earlier survey found that 20 percent of respondents have deferred on-premises technology spend, and an additional 12 percent said they plan to do so. Another 13 percent of respondents have already cut real estate expenses, while another 9 percent plan to do so in the coming months.
Solution providers who have in the last month or two helped set up business clients' employees to work from home said they expect the work-from-home trend to continue after the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, although whether that will be a permanent move or a temporary trial period remains to be seen.
The pandemic will lead to a lot of businesses moving employees to work from home on a permanent basis, said Mike McLaughlin, chief information officer and vice president of professional services at Technologent, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider and No. 67 in the CRN 2019 Solution Provider 500 list.
The current situation in a way echoes the move nearly two decades ago by large tech companies like Oracle and Sun Microsystems to move their field-facing resources from traditional cubicles to "hoteling" in which such employees had lockers and used any open desk as a way to cut space requirements from everyone having their own desks, McLaughlin told CRN.
"Our traditional customers have a lot of mid-level workers who may be part of a team and occasionally are in the office," he said. "This pandemic will be the push to get these people to work from home permanently."
Technologent has practices around networking and security, and is positioned to help clients in the switch to a larger permanent work-from-home employee base, McLaughlin said.
"We have the networking, the security, the connectivity capabilities in place to make this happen," he said. "We can also do a lot of work at the enterprise level with software-driven solutions for new ways to implement things like VPNs."
However, permanent work-from-home status will not be an answer for everyone, McLaughlin said.
"In an aggressive team environment where people are trying to do rapid releases, that will not change entirely," he said. "But for the bulk of people, we will see a bigger swath of companies break the old way of doing things."
The big driver will be employers looking to control costs, particularly facilities costs, said McLaughlin, who in his past life was the chief information officer at GE Access, part of the GE family of companies.
"There will be a push for many companies to say, we don't need this anymore," he said. "Getting employees to work from home can help cut facilities costs. Real estate is expensive, and maintaining facilities is expensive."
Businesses care about the ROI (return on investment) of invested capital and working capital, McLaughlin said.
"They'll think, what am I getting out of that?" he said. "How is that making us a better company? A lot of organizations are starting to question the old saw that people have to show up for work at 8:00, break for lunch, and work in a cubicle. They are now looking at the best ways to help employees provide the best value, but also making it a positive experience for them. They are looking at things like how many hours a day people spend driving to work."
Mark Teter, chief technology officer at Advanced Systems Group, a Denver-based solution provider and number 244 in the CRN 2019 Solution Provider 500 list of companies, said he expects a lot of his company's clients to learn to adjust to the "new normal" of more employees working from home.
While some companies like Yahoo famously tried to move employees to work away from the main office and pulled back those plans because of lower productivity and the need to meet clients, it is hard to see companies pulling back all their work-from-home employees after the pandemic passes, Teter told CRN.
However, he said, there is a lot of work to do to prepare for an expanded permanent work-from-home workforce, he said.
"Those employees will need more support," he said. "For people who work from home, there will need to be a lot of changes in IT. Companies will have to rethink their IT strategies. And this will be a big opportunity for us as people adjust to the new norm."
That could mean helping employees get home office setups similar to what they are used to in the office, including a nice computer, a couple of monitors, and good internet connectivity, Teter said.
"Most home offices are not equipped for permanent work from home," he said. "The devil's in the details. People are now working on their kitchen tables with children running in the background. Security and privacy are all issues. There may be a need for new types of employee contracts as people start working in new business environments."
It is still a bit early to make the call, but the longer the stay at home policies stay in place, the more it will change peoples' lives, said Ryan Lakin, president of IronEdge Group, a Houston-based solution provider.
An organization's industry and culture will have a big influence on whether it will be open to having more of its employees work from home after the pandemic, Lakin told CRN.
"Being in Houston and South Texas, we have always been prepared for extended work from home based on living in a Hurricane prone area," he said. "And we historically have been flexible on work from home for personal reasons should they arise. But personally, I miss the camaraderie, the human element and social aspects of being in the office with my team. Being remote even with video calls just isn’t the same as it doesn’t facilitate the simplicity of 'popping in' to say hello and catch up. Culturally it’s a big shift."
Rick Chernick, CEO of Camera Corner Connecting Point, a Green Bay, Wis.-based solution provider, said he expects about 10 percent of his customer base to keep part of their workforces permanently working from home after the pandemic as a result of both the employers' and the employees' choice.
Most employees who are working from home are still being forced to work with temporary infrastructures in place, and like their setups for now, Chernick told CRN. But for them to work permanently from home, there is a long list of requirements.
"Better cameras, better headsets, better monitors, faster internet, better chairs, better lighting, better desks, and so on," he said.
For CCCP, however, only a small minority of its workforce would be likely to remain permanently working from home after the pandemic, Chernick said.
"Culture is key, as is information sharing," he said.
However, not every company is ready to take the plunge, said Roger Michelson, vice president and chief operating officer at BNMC, an Andover, Mass.-based solution provider.
"Most of my customers are in temporary work-from-home mode," Michelson told CRN. "Everyone I have spoken with expects to go back to the office after the COVID-19 crisis."