Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL

Qualtrics study: With COVID-19 cases surging, most Americans still reluctant to return to offices

By Ryan Miller, | Posted - Jul. 16, 2020 at 6:19 p.m.

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PROVO — The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the business world isn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.

Not only are people still reluctant to head back into offices as COVID-19 cases continue to surge, but with more employers willing to institute permanent work-from-home options, workers are suddenly free to explore their options.

Why live in a high-priced apartment in San Francisco or New York when you can do the same job for the same company in a place of your choosing?

Call it the silver lining of a worldwide pandemic.

According to a recent Qualtrics study, 43% of American workers have considered moving away from the city or state they currently work in — and 17% have already temporarily relocated.

Companies like Twitter, Facebook and Nationwide Insurance have already announced employees can permanently work from home, with some offices even shutting down.

More are expected to follow suit, especially since working in pajamas on a couch hasn't really had an impact on production. The study found that 38% of employees say their productivity has actually risen while working from home, and 40% say it’s remained the same.

“We may see a big shift to states like Utah and others, and shifts away, potentially, from some of these incredibly high price cities like New York, San Francisco, L.A.,” said Mike Maughan, head of global insights at Qualtrics. “It may not be necessary to work in the exact same spot as all of your co-workers or gather in these massive centers. And as some have said, this may be the death of the super city. I think that's probably a little too dramatic, but I think we will see a big shift.”

Maughan pointed out the fact that San Francisco’s rent price has already dropped by 13% over the course of the pandemic as an indication of the shift.

While that may allow companies to cast a wider net in hiring, it also means they are competing against, well, potentially everyone for new employees.

“I think it does allow us to look at things a little bit differently,” Maughan said. “But it also forces us to compete on an entirely new scale. It's rewriting the rulebook, and nobody's had to deal with this yet.”

But while most people enjoy not being tied to an office (only 13% want to work from the office full time, the study said), that doesn’t mean they never want to see their co-workers face to face again. Around 59% of people said they wanted an option to work at home or in the office.

But most don't want to go back now.

The study found that 61% of American workers still feel uneasy about returning to the office. That number has only dropped by about 5% since Qualtrics' last study in May. While that number has stayed relatively the same, more people are willing to do other things.

From May to July, the study saw there were major drops in the discomfort level for things like going to church (60% said they were uncomfortable in May, but only 39% currently feel uneasy), going retail shopping (51% to 31%), eating at a restaurant (68% to 45%), and going to the gym (71% to 56%).

“If you go back to the office, you spend an enormous amount of time there on a consistent basis throughout the day,” Maughan said. “If I'm going to eat at a restaurant, I have the option of going to sit on an outdoor patio, most restaurants have abided by these social distancing guidelines — taking out a bunch of tables for example — and, at most, might be spending an hour there. That's very different than spending eight, nine, 10 hours a day, five days a week at a place.”

So, it’s no surprise many employees expressed the importance of coronavirus guidelines for workspaces. According to the study, 93% of workers wanted social distancing to be strongly enforced (up from 79% in May); 90% said that limiting the number of people in the office was important; and 87% said they wanted a mask requirement.

“The No. 1 takeaway for employers, I think, is that they need to keep a constant pulse on their workforce and be asking continually, ‘How do you feel? What do you need? And how can we help you be successful?’ … As they ask those questions, then they'll be able to make the decision specific to their business,” Maughan said.

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