Business Survey: Nebraska Remote Work Could Flatten Out

OMAHA — While remote workers have multiplied since the pandemic began, a new survey of Nebraska businesses suggests the trend may have flattened locally.

“Remote work has increased, but managers don’t expect it to increase further in the next year,” said economist Eric Thompson, who led the study. “The downside is they don’t think it’s a temporary thing. They expect this increase to continue.”

More growth planned than shrinkage

Another interesting twist: Half of the companies surveyed would like to provide office space not only for internal employees but also for remote workers when they report to the office.

A woman works from home on her laptop. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

For the most part, respondents had not downsized their physical digs in the wake of COVID-19. In fact, nearly 90% said they hadn’t changed square footage since the pandemic broke out in early 2020. Just over 7% said they had increased their size and 3.7% downsized their physical quarters.

When asked about the coming year, nearly 11% said their office space would increase, compared to just 3% who said it would likely decrease.

The newly released report, titled “Nebraska Space Use Survey: The Influence of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was authored by Thompson and Mitch Herian, both of the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Exploring attitudes, trends

It was conducted on behalf of the Nebraska Business Development Center and the US Small Business Administration to examine attitudes toward remote work and the changing space needs of service businesses.

Types of businesses involved in the survey included finance, information, professional support, educational support, and technical services.

Companies that produce goods, retailers, transport or healthcare companies were not recorded.

About 300 questionnaires were answered, which corresponds to a response rate of almost 19%. The sample represented different sizes and locations. Approximately 58% of respondents indicated that they owned the property where their business operated.

Personal work is still highly valued

Among the notable results:

  • Nearly 28% of companies surveyed are more comfortable allowing remote work since the pandemic began, and about 13% less so. The remaining 59% said their feelings hadn’t changed.
  • In urban areas, comfort was higher. About 35% of respondents in Omaha or Lincoln felt more comfortable working remotely, compared to 19% from smaller areas.
  • Even as comfort increased, a clear majority of nearly 79% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that personal work is critical to the company’s operations.

Catherine Lang, NBDC executive director, said the data collected offers a way to assess attitudes towards remote work going forward.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the way Nebraska residents work,” she said.

A leveling

According to the survey, a large majority of employees, more than 80%, still worked full-time in the office, but a significant increase worked remotely.

Offices in a corner of West Omaha. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

The proportion of those who work at least part of the time from home rose from almost 11% before COVID to around 17% at the end of the survey a few weeks ago.

However, looking ahead one year, respondents did not expect any real change in the percentage of telecommuters, showing at least a flattening of the phenomenon in the short term.

“Elon Musk aside,” Thompson quipped, “it’s interesting that the growth of remote work looks like it can be sustained.”

The joke related to Musk’s appointment this week to employees at his recently purchased social network Twitter. The billionaire said he would end the existing work-from-anywhere arrangement when he took office, granting exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

snack

Thompson, director of the Bureau of Business Research, said one of the larger takeaways from the survey was that many business leaders wanted to preserve physical space for their employees when they showed up in person. And he said it’s notable that the increase in remote working and manager convenience “hasn’t really resulted in widespread reductions in office space usage.”

One possible reason companies aren’t planning changes could be logistical, the study leaders said. Of the 58% of respondents who own their site, 67% do not rent to other tenants, raising the possibility that they might struggle to resize the space, especially since the pandemic.

Thompson said the increased convenience of remote work may be partly due to labor shortages and employers’ desire to be sensitive and responsive to workers’ wishes.

“Certainly given the challenges of hiring new employees,” Thompson said, “they have an added incentive to be open-minded.”

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