Business survey: Remote working in Nebraska may be leveling off

Unlike Twitter’s new owner, Husker employers reveal growing comfort with work-at-home, hybrid schedules

By: - November 11, 2022 12:31 pm

Business office park in west Omaha. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

OMAHA — While remote workers have multiplied since the pandemic hit, a new survey of Nebraska businesses signals that the trend locally might have leveled off.

“Remote working has grown, but managers don’t expect it will grow further in the next year,” said economist Eric Thompson, who led the study. “The flip side is they don’t think it’s a temporary thing. They’re expecting this increase to hold.”

More growth than shrinkage planned

Another interesting twist: Half of the businesses surveyed want to maintain office space not only for in-house workers but for remote workers on the occasion they report to the office.

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

For the most part, the respondents had not shrunk their physical digs in the wake of COVID-19. Rather, nearly 90% said they hadn’t changed the square footage since the pandemic hit in early 2020. Just over 7% said they increased it, and 3.7% reduced their physical quarters.

When asked about the coming year, nearly 11% anticipated their office space growing compared to only 3% that said they’d likely go smaller.

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

Exploring attitudes, trends

It was done on behalf of the Nebraska Business Development Center and the U.S. Small Business Administration to explore attitudes toward remote work and changing space needs of service businesses.

Discussing the findings

The Bureau of Business Research will conduct a webinar Nov. 18, noon to 12:45 p.m, to discuss the survey’s findings.

Registration is open to the public.

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

Not covered by the survey were goods-producing businesses, retailers, transportation or health care businesses.

About 300 questionnaires were answered, for a response rate of nearly 19%. The sampling represented various sizes and locations. About 58% of respondents said they owned the property in which their business operated.

In-person work still highly valued

Among notable findings:

  • Of businesses surveyed, nearly 28% have become more comfortable allowing remote work since the onset of the pandemic, and about 13% were less so. The remaining 59% said their feelings hadn’t changed.
  • The comfort level was greater in urban areas. About 35% of the respondents in Omaha or Lincoln have become more at ease with remote work, compared to 19% from smaller areas.
  • Even as comfort grew, a clear majority of nearly 79% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that in-person work is vital to the company’s operations.

Catherine Lang, NBDC executive director, said the data collected provides a way to benchmark attitudes about remote work moving forward.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way Nebraskans work forever,” she said.

A leveling off

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

Offices in a pocket of west Omaha. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

The share of those working at home at least part of the time jumped from nearly 11% pre-COVID to today’s about 17%. The survey period closed in September.

Looking ahead a year, though, respondents anticipated no real change in the percentage of remote workers, showing at least a short-term leveling off of the phenomenon. 

“Elon Musk aside,” quipped Thompson, “it’s interesting that the growth in remote work seems like it can be maintained.” 

The quip referred to Musk’s order this week to the staff of his recently purchased Twitter social network. The billionaire said he was ending the work-from-anywhere arrangement in place when he took over, and would grant exceptions case-by-case.

Takeaways

Thompson, director of the Bureau of Business Research, said that among the survey’s bigger take-aways was that many businesses leaders wanted to maintain physical space for their workers on the occasion they showed up in person. And, he said, it was notable that the increase in remote working and manager comfort level “hasn’t actually translated into a widespread reduction in the use of office space.” 

One potential reason that businesses are not planning change may be logistical, the study leaders said. Among the 58% of respondents who own their work site, 67% do not lease to other tenants, raising the possibility that they could have difficulty altering the amount of space, especially since the pandemic.

Thompson said the increased comfort level with remote working might be driven in part by the labor shortage, and by employers wanting to be sensitive and responsive to employee wishes.

“Certainly with the challenges in hiring recently,” Thompson said, “they have extra incentive to be open-minded.”

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics. She has won awards from organizations including Great Plains Journalism, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) and the Associated Press. Cindy has been recognized by various nonprofits for community contributions and diversity efforts. She chairs the board that oversees the local university’s student newspaper.

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