When we invited event planners to participate in Convene’s Annual Salary Survey this year, it was in late February, and in North America, where most of the respondents live, COVID-19 was in the headlines but not yet affecting them personally or professionally. Obviously, the world is a different place since then, and, seemingly overnight, the pandemic has caused severe economic damage. The ecosystem of the business events world has been especially vulnerable. We’ll be publishing the results of the survey in a few weeks, as a kind of hopeful benchmark for a healthy return of the business events industry.
In the meantime — although no one would have asked for it this way — one item on many respondents’ wish list in late February has come true. Aside from asking for a raise from their boss, dozens of respondents mentioned they wanted to have more work-from-home flexibility. At the time, only 14 percent of respondents said that they work from home full time; another 22 percent said that they don’t but want to. WFH (work from home) has now become part of our lexicon and experts say that even after the stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, remote work will be far more commonplace.
An early-April 2020 MIT survey of 25,000 American workers found that 34 percent of those who had been employed four weeks earlier said that they are working from home. According to Gallup, 62 percent of employed Americans say they have worked from home during the pandemic, and three out of five said they would prefer to work remotely as much as possible, even when public health restrictions are lifted.
The Brookings Institution’s Katherine Guyot and Isabel V. Sawhill called the pandemic “among other things, a massive experiment in telecommuting.” And Patricia Strach, interim executive director at the Rockefeller Institute recently said, according to a Forbes article, that “this forced work-from-home experience is showing us that work-from-home arrangements are a viable strategy for many businesses and that this is likely to be true even after the crisis is over.”
In addition, a Gartner survey of 317 CFOs and finance leaders on March 30, 2020 revealed that nearly three-quarters (74 percent) will move at least 5 percent of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID-19.
“This data is an example of the lasting impact the current coronavirus crisis will have on the way companies do business,” Alexander Bant, practice vice president, research for the Gartner Finance Practice, said in a press release. “CFOs, already under pressure to tightly manage costs, clearly sense an opportunity to realize the cost benefits of a remote workforce. In fact, nearly a quarter of respondents said they will move at least 20 percent of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions. Most CFOs recognize that technology and society has evolved to make remote work more viable for a wider variety of positions than ever before.”
Future of work company Global Workplace Analytics estimates that there will be 25–30 percent of the workforce working from home on a multiple-days-per-week basis by the end of 2021 for a number of reasons:
- Pent-up demand. The demand for flexibility in where and how people work has been increasing for years.
- Trust issues. The enforced work-from-home COVID-19 crisis may have quashed management’s concerns about trusting their people “to work untethered,” Global Workplace Analytics said. The company’s research also shows that managers who have worked from home themselves are more likely to support it for others.
- Having a crisis plan in place. The work disruption COVID-19 caused will not be forgotten and organizations will want remote work to be part of a disaster preparedness plan.
- Cost benefits. There is a significant cost savings to doing business with less real estate. A typical employer can save about $11,000/year for every person who works remotely half of the time.
- A lesson in productivity. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that work at home will save U.S. employers more than $30 billion a day in what would have otherwise been lost productivity during office closures due to COVID-19.
- A more sustainable approach. The annual environmental impact of half-time remote work, according to Global Workplace Analytics, for those who both want to work remotely and have a compatible job, would be the greenhouse gas equivalent of taking the entire New York State workforce off the road.
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.
PCMA has created a COVID-19 resources page to help event professionals find reliable information about the pandemic and to share events industry-related resources to ensure they are prepared now and in the future.