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Hybrid work environments persist during pandemic

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Employees at accounting firms and other types of businesses are continuing to work remotely, or at least coming into the office less, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

A report released Tuesday by payroll and HR technology provider Gusto found that since 2021, the number of fully remote workers has increased 240%. The trend has been occurring across different states, with every state experiencing at least a 10% year-over-year increase in the share of fully work-from-home workers. Nearly 60% of companies now have at least one remote worker, many across state lines.

Many employees have placed flexibility and work-life balance at the top of their criteria when weighing whether to accept a job offer. A recent Gusto analysis indicated that 35% of workers believed location flexibility to be the main factor when deciding to accept their last job offer, above those who said total compensation was the defining factor.

Data from Gusto indicated that being a fully remote worker correlates with a 9% to 13% decrease in the odds of quitting within three months of hire.

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Workers who previously lived close to their workplaces are moving farther away, according to Gusto chief economist Liz Wilke. “In fact, the median distance between an employee’s home and work location has net increased by 6% since the start of the pandemic,” she wrote. “The trend indicates that most workers expect to come into the office sometimes, but do not expect to be required to come in most days per week.”

Separate research has pointed to a mixed picture of more workers returning to the workplace in some parts of the country compared to others. Kastle Systems, a building security technology provider, has been keeping track of office access by employees in different major cities around the country. Its latest weekly Back to Work Barometer indicated a 43.2% average occupancy rate across 10 major cities. The Houston metropolitan area had an occupancy rate of 56.7% on May 4, compared to 34.3% in the San Francisco metro area and 38.1% in the New York metro area.

“We’re the biggest provider of managed access control around the country, so we have by far the biggest single source of people going in and out of offices and tenant spaces,” said Kastle Systems chair Mark Ein. “We‘ve been tracking that since the pandemic and publishing it since shortly thereafter. You’ll notice regional differences where some markets are high and some markets are lower.”

Lately, the Texas markets have been at or near 60% in returning to the office, he noted. “Texas has always been at the top, and Northern California has been at the low end, and they’ve all been consistent, with the exception of New York, which for a long time has been at the low end and now is closer to the average,” said Ein. “We’re seeing a steady increase, and I think that’s also reflected in the number of major companies that are finally putting stakes in the ground and saying I want our people back in the office, if not all of the time then for some of the time, and for some it’s been all of the time. We’re seeing a week-by-week steady increase and we expect that to continue.”

While his company doesn’t track activity at accounting firms, he has noticed more law firms back in the office. “We do track law firms, which have been consistently higher than the average in terms of being back in the office by a meaningful amount,” said Ein.

Firms that want to bring more of their employees back to the office can help by improving ventilation and reconfiguring their space. 

“In our conversations with building owners and tenants, we do see people reconfiguring their buildings and tenant spaces to adapt to the new world, which is more space for collaboration, greater focus on health and safety, so there are more touchless office environments and a focus on air quality,” said Ein. “They’ve used the last two years when people haven’t been in the office as much to try to create an office environment that will make people more comfortable and want to come back.”

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