After the coronavirus pandemic recedes, 74% of companies will move at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions, a Gartner survey of 317 CFOs found last week.
"This data is an example of the lasting impact the current coronavirus crisis will have on the way companies do business," said Alexander Bant, vice president of Gartner Finance Practice’s research.
The push towards working from home has made CFOs realize the costs and benefits of a remote workforce, Bant said, a consideration that will remain top of mind as businesses resume semi-normal operations.
In its most recent survey, 81% of CFOs told Gartner they planned to exceed their contractual obligations to hourly workers. And when it comes to creative cost savings, remote work could be the key for CFOs seeking to avoid severe cuts and downside operational impacts.
In the same survey, CFOs told Gartner, in an effort to "help minimize disruptions workers might be facing as a result of the crisis," they intended to adjust to more flexible work schedules and provide necessary work from home equipment.
"Most CFOs recognize that technology and society has evolved to make remote work more viable for a wider variety of positions than ever before," Bant said. "90% of CFOs previously reported to us that they expect minimal disruptions to their accounting close process, with almost all activities able to be executed off-site."
Permanent remote work could become one of the most feasible and effective cost-cutting measures for CFOs to undertake. In Gartner’s most recent survey, 20% of respondents said they’d already deferred on-premise technology spend, and an additional 12% planned to do so shortly.
"CFOs across enterprises have been discussing hypothetical situations in which more employees permanently work remotely," Bant told CFO Dive in an interview Friday. "This has quickly become a reality, and will change the corporate real estate landscape going forward."
The trend of off-site work as a cost-saving method applied across the board, with 13% of CFO respondents noting they had already moved to reduce their real estate expenses.
"CFOs are trying to navigate how and when they’ll make this shift [to remote work]," Bant said. "They have contractual corporate real estate leases that extend past [the current stay-at-home mandates]."
Bant said the HR group at Gartner have reported employees' ongoing concerns about illness risks in the popular open-concept office plans. Many employees, Bant said, will be uncomfortable returning to their offices, even after the regulatory bans are lifted.
"I don’t think CFOs are preparing for a situation where no one comes into the office at all," he said. "But many will have to revisit their paid time off and sick leave policies."
Even so, the issue of corporate real estate is looming large. Currently, with people being forced to work from home, CFOs are unlikely to think about redoing their corporate real estate portfolio and spend until after the quarter close, and potentially not even until the third quarter, Bant said.
In the meantime, CFOs are in the midst of determining how best to support their remote teams. "Do we give a stipend? What are others offering? What support resources are others putting in place from an employee experience standpoint?" Bant says CFOs are asking. "They’re trying to figure out what they owe their employees, and which benefits will actually need to stay in place in a long-term remote environment."
Another question this raises — if companies pivot to remote work for their higher-cost employees in densely-populated areas, does that mean potentially more labor markets across the country? And what employees doing transactional work in major metropolitan areas? Perhaps, Bant said, this could lead to a push for more remote workers in lower-cost locations to do the same work.