Bucknell expert: COVID-19 pandemic could mark a lasting change on the way we work

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Will the office become a thing of the past now that most Americans have emerged from lockdown?

Probably not, says one expert, but expect some big changes in the near-term.

“Indeed, flexible work arrangements had been gaining traction, and COVID-19 has forced everyone to adjust our standard operating procedure,” Karen M. McGrath, an assistant finance professor at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., recently told the financial literacy site WalletHub.

In a new poll commissioned by WalletHub, 60 percent of respondents said they think COVID-19 has actually changed the way Americans work for the better. Whether that kind of flexibility becomes the norm is another matter entirely.

“If both employers and employees see value in it, then absolutely,” McGrath said. “If workplace flexibility is an expected employee [benefit], then employers will continue to offer that benefit to hire and retain quality people, which should be a prime the goal of the employer. So as long as productivity remains strong, and employees experience greater job satisfaction, then I do not see things changing.”

Among the poll’s key findings:

  • Nearly a third of respondents believe physical offices are a thing of the past.
  • But not everyone’s okay with it: About 50 percent of parents with young children said they think they’re less productive at home.
  • More than half of all respondents, 53 percent, said they believe businesses should be held responsible if their employees get sick.
  • About four in 10, 41 percent, said those who return to work should be paid more.
  • And six in 10 think their coworkers aren’t as productive when they work from home.

While she’s not ready to write off the physical office entirely, saying it “serves a purpose as a concerted base of operations,” and that most people “crave” the social interactions brought about at work, McGrath did say that business and industry will have to get more flexible as a matter of necessity.

“Employers have seen that employees are responsible and can be productive in the [work from home] environment. Thus, I believe that we may see an increase in workers being able to create some level of customization in regard to how much time they spend in the office,” she told WalletHub. That means “employees may increasingly be able to work 2-3 days in the office, and 2-3 days at home, or perhaps even choose to alternate their location between alternate weeks.”

WalletHub’s survey sample included 300 adults nationwide whose opinions were tested online.

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press