Companies are planning on retaining remote work options to a greater degree than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic once workplace restrictions ease, according to the Q3 AICPA Economic Outlook Survey. The survey polled CEOs, CFOs, controllers and other certified public accountants in U.S. companies who hold executive and senior management accounting roles.

Topline results of the survey were released Sept. 3, but business executives also were asked supplemental questions about their workplace plans for the next 12 months. Half said they plan to return principally or entirely to traditional onsite operations, provided restrictions are eased or not in place. Another 15% said remote work was never an option for them. Some 22%, however, said their company’s operations would be primarily remote, with an additional 9% saying they planned to be completely virtual. In comparison, only 4% of companies said they operated as all-virtual concerns before the pandemic.

So far, the shift to remote work hasn’t led to widespread plans for a reduction in office space, confirming that while businesses will leverage the flexibility that remote working enables, physical office and collaboration workspaces remain an essential part of the future-of-work landscape. More than three-quarters of business executives (77%) said they expected no change to their brick-and-mortar office footprint over the next 12 months. Some 18% said they expected some consolidation, with 5% saying they planned to give up 50% or more of their space. Five percent said their companies plan to increase space.

“Many companies were forced abruptly into remote work situations by the pandemic and performed surprisingly well,” Ash Noah, CPA, CGMA, managing director of CGMA learning, education and development for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, said. “The crisis accelerated the virtual teams and remote trends already underway. We will see businesses being more flexible in their approach and adopting a hybrid  operating model that will become more commonplace over the next few years.”

The greatest pandemic-related concerns that business executives cited for the next 12 months are safety of employees and customers (33%), uncertainty over stay-at-home restrictions (29%) and customer demand/ability to pay (22%), according to the survey. Only 2% listed liability concerns as their greatest worry.

To address safety, most companies plan to mandate masks in the workplace (74%), provide socially distanced workspaces (71%), provide personal protection equipment (64%) and screen workers (52%).

“Other” responses in the above included:

  • Split our employees into pods that do not physically interact
  • Significant signage to promote safety and distancing
  • Restricting access to outside vendors/customers to essential interactions
  • Discontinue vending services/coffee and water fountains
  • Implement paperless transactions
  • More virtual sales tools
  • Additional cleaning and sanitation

The Q3 AICPA Business and Industry Economic Outlook Survey was conducted from July 18 to Aug. 28 and included 1,067 qualified responses from CPAs who hold leadership positions such as CFO or controller. The overall margin of error is fewer than three percentage points.