By Pension and Benefits Editorial Staff
Seventy seven percent of surveyed HR leaders expect the shift toward more teleworking to continue, even one year after COVID-19 substantially subsides. Conducted by The Conference Board, the survey assessed more than 150 HR executives primarily at large US companies. They weighed in on the various actions they are taking and plan on taking in light of this pandemic.
"A shift toward more remote working will have major implications for HR departments," said Robin Erickson, PhD, a report co-author and Principal Researcher at The Conference Board. "Among other changes, they will be able to recruit workers from a broader geographic pool and will need to hire and promote those who can inspire remote teams."
The findings also reveal that, this summer, US workers should continue to brace for more permanent, sometimes painful changes at their organizations. Rather than continuing to enact more easily reversible decisions such as furloughs and hiring freezes, some HR executives said their companies will now focus on making long-lasting changes, including more layoffs and restructurings. Additional survey findings include the following:
- Among the companies that were prepared for remote work, many are self-reporting an increase in productivity now, during the crisis. Thirty seven percent of companies that had more remote workers before COVID-19 report that they are actually seeing increased employee productivity now, during the crisis. This self-reported boost in productivity suggests the immense potential of remote work—and the flexibility it provides—to improve performance and results.
- A majority expect to return to pre-pandemic revenue levels within the next 12 months. At the end of April 2020, more than 55 percent of survey respondents from organizations that experienced a decline in revenue after COVID-19 expected to return to pre-pandemic revenue levels within the next 12 months. Thirty nine percent believed revenue levels will return after 12 months; 4 percent believed they will not return to pre-pandemic levels.
- Long-lasting changes, including layoffs and restructurings, are more likely to take place this summer. According to the survey, two of the more drastic measures—permanent layoffs and major restructurings—are more likely to take place from May through July than they were to have already occurred. However, only 16 percent expect permanent layoffs to come in that timeframe while 9 percent expect a major restructuring. "Even though a small number of organizations are planning these measures, they can have a large impact especially if those companies employ many workers," said Amanda Popiela, a report co-author and Researcher at The Conference Board.
- In the months ahead, blue-collar-heavy companies are more likely to enact harsher workforce cost reductions than white-collar-heavy companies. Companies with more industrial and manual services workers are much more likely to implement furloughs with benefits, conduct permanent layoffs, require employees to use paid time off/vacation, and cut salaries/wages. "Top factors that determine the severity of a company's workforce cost reductions include the ability to continue doing one's job remotely and the ability to safely return to the workplace," said Frank Steemers, a report co-author and Economist at The Conference Board.
As companies plan to reopen the workplace, what's top of mind for HR executives? The survey revealed the following:
- Worker health, well-being, and safety. Ensuring office preparation and return to work (89 percent); Addressing health and safety concerns for those returning to the office (86 percent); Offering employee mental health/well-being support (75 percent); and determining worker sentiment to return to work (e.g., temperature checks before entering workplace) (75 percent).
- Compensation adjustments and waiting to acquire new talent. Acquiring "critical" or "essential" talent (34 percent); adjusting compensation (22 percent); and acquiring new hires for all open roles (19 percent).
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