Employer survey indicates new normal will be very different

Aug 26, 2020Commonwealth Magazine, Council in the News

August 26, 2020
CommonWealth Magazine
By Bruce Mohl

Businesses say 47% of employees will continue to work remotely.

A SURVEY OF COMPANIES in the Greater Boston area indicates nearly half of their employees will continue to work remotely after concerns about COVID-19 subside, suggesting major changes are in store for commuting, commercial real estate, and the downtown core.

The survey of 106 companies with 127,299 employees indicated 18 percent of the workers worked remotely pre-COVID. That percentage, according to the survey, is 82 percent now and will decline to 79 percent by Labor Day, hit 61 percent by January, and settle in eventually at 47 percent after a treatment for COVID-19 is discovered.

Sixty percent of the companies surveyed said they are considering moving or allowing more work to be done out-of-state and 54 percent said they are considering reducing the size of their office space footprint in Massachusetts.

The numbers suggest major changes are in store for white collar work, and those changes are likely to have a ripple effect through the local economy, affecting everything from the price of office space to MBTA service levels to the viability of downtown restaurants that rely on employees in office buildings.

“These are sobering numbers for Massachusetts and its economy,” said a statement issued by Jay Ash, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership and a former state economic development secretary. “Employers and the talent they attract are the bedrock of Massachusetts’s competitiveness. The pandemic will have a lasting impact on how people work; our hope is that these survey results inform not only business leaders, but policymakers alike, as they think about economic recovery and the challenges and competition we face for jobs and the tax revenues they produce.”

The MBTA is  forecasting that its fare revenue, which is currently at about 10 percent of pre-COVID levels, will rise to 60 percent by June 2021 and 80 percent by September 2021. If close to half of commuters are not coming back, those revenue projections may not work.

The survey of businesses was conducted between August 3 and August 14. Of the businesses surveyed, 51 percent had headquarters in Boston or Cambridge, 44 percent were located outside the urban core but within Route 495, and 5 percent were outside 495.

Of the 106 companies surveyed, six employed 50,700 workers. Another 75,106 workers were employed at 58 companies ranging in size from 100 to 5,000 employees. The remaining 42 companies employed 1,423 workers at businesses with fewer than 100 employees.

The percentage of employees who would continue to work remotely post-COVID was highest — 58 percent — at companies employing fewer than 100 workers. It was 50 percent at employers with more than 5,000 employees and ranged from 41 to 44 percent for employers between 100 and 5,000 workers.

The survey was conducted by a number of business groups, including the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, the Massachusetts High Tech Council, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce , the Mass Technology Leadership Council, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, the Massachusetts Biology Council, and the Middlesex 3 Coalition.

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