While a majority (55 per cent) of North American employers said they expect most of their furloughed workers will return to work by the first quarter of 2021, just 16 per cent said they expect to rehire laid-off employees by then, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson.

It also found respondents expect the proportion of their workforce who are full-time employees working from home (19 per cent) will be less than half of current levels (44 per cent) but nearly three times what it was last year (seven per cent).

Despite the expectations of more employees working from home, many employers haven’t taken steps to address this shift. Just 19 per cent said they’ve changed policies to encourage more remote work, although 60 per cent said they’re planning or considering doing so. Only 20 per cent said they’ve provided tools and resources to employees who may work remotely long term, with 66 per cent saying they’re planning or considering doing so. And just 10 per cent said they’ve acted to offer employees subsidies to manage costs of working remotely, while nearly 29 per cent are planning or considering doing so.

Read: Remote working, distributed workforces could be part of new normal post-coronavirus

“One of the myriad of challenges employers face as they begin to restore stability in a post-COVID-19 era is deciding which employees to bring back to work and when,” said Ravin Jesuthasan, managing director at Willis Towers Watson, in a press release. “While those decisions will ultimately depend on public health and economic recovery, employers will also need to adapt to having a larger percentage of remote workers and this will fundamentally change their culture.”

Catherine Hartmann, North America rewards practice leader at Willis Towers Watson, added the pandemic is forcing employers to rethink virtually every aspect of how work is being done and how to reward this work. “With many companies planning to accelerate their reliance on automation and remote workers, the focus on how work gets done will become paramount. In turn, the organizations that get in front of up-skilling, re-skilling and, in some cases, out-skilling will be best positioned coming out of the pandemic.”

While most survey respondents said they have a sufficient budget to maintain and effectively deliver existing talent and reward programs (88 per cent), fewer have the budget to add critical new programs (58 per cent) or adopt new technologies (49 per cent).

The survey also found 52 per cent of respondents said they expect most employees who took a pay cut or had their workweek reduced will be back to normal levels by the first quarter of 2021. As well, more than half of respondents believe changes they’ve made since the pandemic began are having a positive impact on employee well-being (53 per cent) and the employee experience (51 per cent).

Read: 75% of global workers feel employers are looking after their well-being during coronavirus

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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