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2 On Your Side: Workers Seek More Flexibility In Post-Pandemic World

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – From Zoom meetings to home offices, the coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed how we do business, and study after study has shown that a majority of American workers don't want to lose that flexibility after the pandemic is over.

A recent Bloomberg study found that nearly 40 percent of the workers they polled would leave their jobs if they were forced to work full time in the office.

Before the pandemic, Jackie Purcell, a mother of two, commuted five days a week from Granada Hills to Brentwood for her job at a commercial real estate company.

"Oh boy, I left here usually about 5:15 in the morning, and that would only take me 25 or 30 minutes," Purcell told CBS2's Kristine Lazar. "I would work out and get ready there, and I would miss my morning commute. But my way home can be an hour and 20 (minutes), an hour and 45."

It robbed her of quality time with her children.

"Our evenings become just this race to bedtime," Purcell said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020, Purcell shifted to working from home full-time. She is now back in the office three days a week, and works from home the other two. She says she feels like she needs to be in the office to collaborate with coworkers, but appreciates having a hybrid schedule.

"With having kids, and more responsibilities, more appointments to run to, more laundry, I do like having the flexibility," Purcell said.

That flexibility was much harder to find before the pandemic.

"So a lot of employers were hesitant to move to a full remote workforce, mostly because there were trust issues," said Patricia Grabarek, adjunct sociology professor of sociology at USC.

Grabarek -- co-founder of Workr Beeing, which helps companies achieve workplace wellness -- says many employers found the opposite was true when offices shut down.

"So research shows that a lot of employees can be way more productive when they are home," Grabarek said. "They are able to focus in and create an environment that is conducive to how they like to work. And research for decades has shown that if we allow employees to have autonomy over how they do their work, and flexibility in their schedules, they are much more likely to be happy in their jobs."

A recent study by Glassdoor found that the number of people looking for remote work jumped 460% from June 2019 to June 2021. And if they offer remote work, employers can widen their job search to those out of state. They can also save money. It's part of the reason global staffing company Aquent decided to let its leases lapse across the country, including offices in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

"We realized we were wasting a lot of money on real estate and overhead expenses that could be better spent in investing in our staff," said Erin Bloom with Aquent.

The pandemic has shown employers that you don't need to be in the office to be productive.

"We find that people are actually more productive," Bloom added. "They have more time to get work done, they're not commuting. It really comes down to really great leadership and trusting your employees to get the work, done and focusing more on outcomes than time clocking into an office."

However, there are limitations to that productivity, according to a study just released by Microsoft. The tech giant found that remote work hurt its innovation and communication amongst its more than 60,000 employees.

"And so what employers are tasked with now is trying to figure out a way to create that community, to create mechanisms for collaboration with people wherever they may be," said Elizabeth Bille, senior vice president of workplace culture at Everfi.

Aquent, meanwhile, plans to spend some of the money saved on rent on building community.

"We have employees who are interested in hiking the Appalachian Trail together, we have folks who want to start a sailing team," Bloom said. "There are a lot of different things. And we're going to encourage deliberate, new ways of connecting that don't necessarily mean working elbow-to-elbow in a cubicle farm."

Experts say the pandemic will leave a permanent mark on the way we do business, well after it's over.

"It's really prompted employers to reimagine where and when work is performed and to offer more flexibility around both," Bille said.

Experts say allowing workers more flexibility will also help stem the tide of women leaving the workforce. Nearly three million women left their careers during the first 13 months of the pandemic.

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