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Full-time remote work trend has its doubters

A new Gartner survey projects that about half of all office workers will continue to work remotely full-time once the pandemic ends. Not everyone agrees with the forecast.

Major business leaders, especially at technology firms, have said the full-time remote work trend is here to stay. 

Facebook Inc.'s co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is one of its leading advocates. He believes 50% of his 45,000 employees could be working remotely in 10 years.

But not everyone agrees with these high predictions.

Brad Mete, managing partner at two recruiting and staffing firms in Florida -- Affinity Resources, an employment agency, and IntellaPro LLC, a professional staffing firm -- doesn't see full-time remote work reaching anywhere near half of workforces generally.

"I'm not so sure that remote is going to be the wave of the future," Mete said. You will see a slight uptick, "but I don't think you're going to see a gigantic increase," he said.

Mete started bringing back his workers to his Fort Lauderdale offices in mid-May, in accordance with the state's reopening rules. Employees wore masks, and the office was arranged so they could practice social distancing. That followed a period of remote work, but Mete said productivity took a hit when all the employees were out of the office.

Mete admitted that his management style is better suited to working in person. He likes to brainstorm and whiteboard and sees Zoom meetings as clumsy. 

Employees on Zoom sessions "have so many other distractions, whether it be their kids, their dog, their cellphones -- I find it more difficult to keep their attention and keep them engaged," he said.

Remote work trend forecast

Gartner has an aggressive forecast for the full-time remote work trend. It recently gathered feedback from 127 company leaders, including those representing HR departments. In its survey, 82% of respondents stated that they intend to permit remote working at least some of the time post-pandemic.

Its eye-popping finding is that nearly half of respondents intend to allow remote work to continue full-time once the pandemic ends, on par with Zuckerberg's vision.

Elisabeth Joyce, a vice president in the Gartner HR practice, said the prediction that 50% of office workers will continue to work from home full-time will hold up the longer the pandemic keeps people home. Businesses have adjusted to employees working remotely and employees are "setting into their new norm," she said.

I'm not so sure that remote is going to be the wave of the future.
Brad MeteManaging partner, Affinity Resources and IntellaPro LLC

The longer that businesses keep their workers remote and maintain productivity, "the less they have as a business case to bring people back into the office," Joyce said.

Mete believes the flex remote work trend will gain some traction. It was even something he was considering before the pandemic. "You can save a ton of money on office space and create a happier employee, a better work-life balance," he said.

Before COVID-19, Mete had about 700 employees, mostly people staffed at client sites, and 42 internal employees. Now, the two recruiting and staffing firms have about 300 employees staffed at other firms and 32 internal employees. But they are seeing a pickup in staffing work, Mete said.

Mete's staff continued to work in the office until recently. After an employee's family became infected, he sent everyone home to quarantine. That ends Tuesday. 

Florida has been a hot spot for COVID-19 cases, but Mete said he's happy with the state's management of the virus.

"The economy couldn't stay on hold forever," he said. "I think things would have to get extremely bad for them to roll back again. But if it comes to that, I will just have to make the adjustments and roll with the punches."

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