The Ritz Herald
© Nastuh Abootalebi

Only 27 Percent of Employers Plan to Return Office-Based Employees

82% of organizations are letting employees decide when they feel safe and comfortable returning to the office

Published on December 14, 2020

Only 27 percent of employers plan to return office-based employees to physical locations in the near term, with most pushing back their workplaces’ reopening to later in 2021. Some permanently not requiring a return to the office, according to a new KPMG survey, “Return to the Workplace,” of U.S. senior executives at 100 companies that represent approximately five million employees in total.

The survey results also indicated that 82 percent of companies are letting employees decide when they feel safe and comfortable returning to the office, with only 18 percent mandating that employees return to the office by a certain date at this time.

“While it seems that employees are successfully working outside their traditional offices, employers have new questions about how to measure productivity in a virtual world,” said Atif Zaim, KPMG Advisory principal and Restarting America leader. “Organizations are working on new measures to avoid exposing employees to undue health risks through widespread return-to-office initiatives ahead of available vaccines.”

The survey also found that organizations are implementing various measures to manage employee risk, with social distancing being the most frequent activity at 52 percent, followed by contact tracing at 48 percent, and daily symptom checks at 44 percent. “Mask wearing, social distancing, and enhanced cleaning protocols can help lower the risk of infection until the use of a vaccine can help accelerate the return-to-office timeframe,” added Zaim.

Nearly all employers, 99 percent, are investing in technologies that facilitate employee wellness (45% of survey participants), readiness (43% of survey participants), and workforce health tracking (41% of survey participants). The survey also reveals increased interest in technology investments that support risk management strategies and help manage restart policy on an ongoing basis, even as organizations scale their virtual workforces in the future.

“In many ways, COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for employers and has demonstrated that increased investment in programs that support employee health, safety, and wellness are critical to maintaining continuity of operations as well as attracting top talent,” said Paul Hencoski, KPMG Advisory principal and Health and Government Solutions leader. “Technology can play a critical role in enabling more sophisticated approaches to employee wellness and disease risk management.”

Focus on profitability and cash flow

Next to physical health, organizations are also focusing on profitability, cash flow, and other financial planning, as 46 percent of survey participants said that this is their number one priority.

However, industry priorities vary with some companies, such as those in financial services and consumer & retail, focusing on the digitization of customer-facing operations. In contrast, industrial manufacturing companies are increasingly focused on supply chain improvements.

“Investing in new workforce models will be an effective way to improve long-term profitability and viability,” said Joe Parente, KPMG Advisory principal and leader of Work Anywhere (Work Anywhere is KPMG’s human-centric and digitally-enabled approach in helping organizations redesign the way work gets done). “By optimizing the remote workforce to improve agility and productivity, organizations can balance financial resilience on both a short- and long-term basis.”

In September 2020, KPMG LLP conducted a survey of U.S. senior executives representing 100 companies with annual revenue of at least $1 billion each and governmental organizations – with an aggregate headcount of approximately five million employees. The research included companies from six industries: consumer markets/retail, government, life sciences, financial services, industrial manufacturing, technology, media, and telecommunications.

Business Editor