The third iteration of the COVID-19 Snapshot was conducted between September 9- 30, 2021 with 164 employers, representing about 290,000 employees across the region.
Regional Employer Survey Key Findings
On average, survey respondents expect 68% of employees will be onsite on a typical workday by summer 2022.
Over the next 12 months, 52% of employers expect the amount their employees telework to remain about the same.
45% of employers surveyed are expecting to grow their workforce within the region over the next 12 months while 54% expect their workforce will remain about the same.
4 in 10 employers said it is more difficult to find qualified employees in the region as compared to before the pandemic.
Almost half of respondents said their organization is willing to hire employees that primarily work remotely.
More than half of the region's employers plan to require their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine or to submit to weekly testing.
More than half of employers are changing their reopening plans because of the rise of COVID-19 variants and infection rates during summer 2021.
Three-quarters of employers do not expect to expand or reduce their real-estate footprint over the next twelve months.
The Greater Washington Partnership is committed to catalyzing solutions and fostering unity.
The Greater Washington Partnership is a first-of-its-kind civic alliance of business leaders in the region, drawing from the leading employers and entrepreneurs committed to making the region— from Baltimore to Richmond—one of the world’s best places to live, work and build a business. The Partnership is committed to fostering unity and catalyzing solutions to advance inclusive growth. We are stronger and more successful when aligned with our many exceptional partners throughout the region. This is especially true for the COVID-19 Snapshot. Thank you to the following partners for collaborating on this effort to ensure the entire region has a strong, safe recovery.
The third iteration of the COVID-19 Snapshot was conducted between September 9- 30, 2021 with 164 employers, representing about 290,000 employees across the region. Since the second survey results were published in January 2021, there have been major medical advances in the fight against the pandemic– most importantly, the development and widespread distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, cited last year as the top factor influencing employer reopening decisions. The Fall 2021 Snapshot provides an update on the state of the regional businesses’ reopening plans, how vaccines and the Delta variant are affecting plans, and what factors are currently driving employers’ decisions on returning their employees to worksites.
In contrast, the second Snapshot, conducted in December 2020, revealed that employers expected more than three-quarters of employees would return onsite on a typical workday by Fall 2021, and listed the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine, employee health concerns, and state and/or local mandates as major factors influencing the decision of when to bring employees back to worksites. In reality, the results from the Fall 2021 COVID-19 Snapshot demonstrate that most employees represented in the survey are still teleworking all or most of the time.
The continuing pandemic, elevated levels of community transmission, and concern over COVID-19 variants have delayed a general return to the office. As of September 2021, just under half of employees on average are expected to be onsite on a typical workday. In comparison, the December 2020 survey estimated that three-quarters of employees would be onsite by this time.
Employers estimate that the share of the workforce expected onsite will still grow over the next year, but at a slower pace than earlier predictions. On average, survey respondents expect that 68% of employees will be onsite on a typical workday by summer 2022. The slowing pace of the return to worksites indicates that the longer the pandemic continues, the more likely work from home and hybrid schedules will remain an entrenched business norm.
Over the next year, 38% of employers expect the amount of their employees’ telework will decrease while just over half expect it will stay about the same. Only 1-in-10 employers expect the frequency of teleworking to increase over the next year.
However, uncertainty abounds. COVID-19 variants, such as Delta and Mu, coupled with elevated infection rates over the summer forced more than half of employers to adjust their reopening plans. Since our first survey in August 2020, we have witnessed that employers are willing to adjust their plans to keep their employees and their families safe.
This fall, the top influencing drivers that informed return-to-worksite decisions included local COVID-19 infection rates, employee health concerns, school and childcare status, and the reopening plans of peer organizations.
Keeping Worksites Safe
Throughout the pandemic, employers have been monitoring and following updated health guidance to make work in-person environments safe and comfortable. As more worksites reopen, the top measures being adopted included instituting a COVID-19 exposure quarantine policy, limiting the number of external visitors onsite, and requiring all staff to wear masks onsite, regardless of local mandates.
Though employers are monitoring COVID-19 infection rates to inform their reopening plans and taking measures to keep employees safe, 46% of respondents do not expect to require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine while 54% will require employees to get the vaccine or submit to regular COVID testing.
During the survey period, President Biden announced that all federal employees will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine and strongly encouraged all employers with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccination or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. While the number of employers who will require a vaccination may still increase, we found no significant difference in the survey results between vaccination requirements for employers with more or less than 100 employees.
Regardless of vaccination requirements, respondents estimated that a large majority of their workforce is already vaccinated. Across the region, employers estimated that 89% of their workforce was fully vaccinated, which is nearly 20% percentage points higher than state-wide averages in Maryland, DC, and Virginia for adults aged 18-64. This delta may indicate that employers are overestimating staff vaccination rates or that the employees represented in this survey are more likely to have been vaccinated than the general public.
Despite the uncertainty around the pace and scale of the return to worksites, 45% of surveyed employers expect to grow their workforce in the region over the next year. Across the region, a higher proportion of respondents in Virginia anticipated growing their workforce over the next year than respondents in Maryland or the District of Columbia.
However, roughly 4 in 10 employers have found it more difficult to find qualified employees in the region as compared to before the pandemic. Very few employers said it was easier to find qualified employees.
Remote work is clearly becoming an entrenched recruitment and retention tool. Nearly half of employers across the region stated that they are willing to hire employees that primarily work remotely. One hypothesis for this is that finding qualified employees within commuting distancing may be difficult. About half of those employers who are willing to hire remote employees are only willing to do so if the employees live within the region and 32% of employers are not willing to hire remote employees at all.
Although many employers expect to grow their workforce in the region over the next year, three-quarters of respondents are not planning to expand or to reduce their real estate footprint. Across the region, there was little change in real estate expectations from the prior survey in December 2020.
Broken down by organization size, however, there have been several changes in real estate expectations since the December survey. Medium and large employers showed significant decreases in their expectation to reduce their real estate footprint, dropping from 13% to 5% and 30% to 21% respectively.
Small employers (50-200 employees) were the only group more likely to say they are planning to reduce their real estate footprint from 8% to 10%. The decrease in plans to reduce office space may indicate that employers are looking to have some share of workers back in the office over the next 12 months.
Commuting to Worksites
To safely reopen the region’s economy, many employers have taken a phased and gradual approach to asking employees to return to worksites. As the pandemic has continued into its second year, long-term impacts on commutes and changes to mobility patterns becomes more likely. For example, our December 2020 survey showed that commuting via public transportation dropped to 25% of pre-COVID levels and commuting via car dropped to 60% of pre-COVID levels.
In our current survey, 59% of respondents are anticipating that the share of employees who commute to their workplace by private car will increase over the next 12 months, 14% of employers expect an increased use of public transportation, and 21% expect biking or walking to work to increase.
As employers continue to implement their return-to-work policies, the survey asked employers if they are rethinking transportation benefits offered to employees. 53% of employers reported that they already offer commuter benefits, 35% offer benefits to those who commute by private car, and 26% reported benefits for telework such as stipends for home office equipment. Yet the vast majority of employers (86%) are not planning to increase benefits over the next year with benefits for teleworking the most likely to increase at 7%. Public agencies should consider exploring ways to make it easier for employers to provide benefits for public transportation, biking, walking, and vanpooling as more worksites reopen to take advantage of the historic behavior shift necessitated by the pandemic, such as cross-agency, multi-modal transit passes to reduce long-term congestion and increase sustainable commute options.
In Summer 2020, we identified a gap in publicly accessible information about ridership and crowding levels during the pandemic. Working in partnership with the region’s transit operators and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), the Greater Washington Partnership and EY created the COVID-19 Transit Tracker to help employers and employees make decisions about when and how to safely use transit. Today, with widespread adoption of vaccines and mask-wearing, we know that using transit is just as safe as many other daily activities.
Since publishing the Transit Tracker, most of the major transit agencies around the region have started providing real-time information of their own on ridership and crowding levels. While historical Transit Tracker data can still be accessed here, we encourage all residents to explore COVID-19 updates and from the transit agencies themselves for the most up-to-date information.
We have included a selection of helpful resources below.
Kastle Systems and the Greater Washington Partnership teamed up to provide the Kastle Back to Work Barometer for the Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond metro areas. To view the national Kastle Back to Work Barometer visit www.kastle.com. Kastle Systems serves millions of Americans across with keycard, fob, and KastlePresence® app access data across 2,600 buildings and 41,000 businesses nationwide.
Aggregating key card, fob, and KastlePresence app access data, the Kastle Back to Work Barometer provides insight into the rate of return to offices. While the data is only a sample of total Kastle customers, the barometer can help business owners, elected officials, and transit agencies have a better sense of the rate of return to offices across the region since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Charted percentages are based on daily unique authorized user entries in each market relative to a pre-COVID baseline.
The Partnership intends to update the Barometer regularly as the region continues to reopen so that all public and private decision-makers and residents have access to regular, timely, and actionable information. The Partnership encourages all employers and residents to do their part to help slow the spread of COVID-19 by following public health officials’ guidance.
“We are requiring negative test results for unvaccinated staff every 5 days.”
“The desire of employees to work remotely is our biggest driver of reopening policy.”
“The availability of a vaccine for children under 12 is our biggest driver.”
“We like junior people to have a worksite to enable development and get aligned with the company culture and form relationships.”
COVID-19 Fall 2021 Employer Survey Sample Characteristics
164 employers (including almost 1,200 distinct worksites) from various industries are represented in the survey. Together these organizations employ roughly 290,000 people in throughout the region (full time, part-time, and contracted workforce). The results from the Employer COVID-19 Snapshot Survey reflect the opinions and assumptions of employers who responded to the survey and should not be used to generalize the entire region.
Responses were collected via an online survey managed and hosted by EY, under the supervision of the EY research team. Responses were collected between September 9, 2021, through September 30, 2021. Survey respondents were sought from email subscriber lists of The Greater Washington Partnership and more than 20 partner organizations, including MWCOG, WMATA, MDOT, NVTA and NVTC, and local Chambers of Commerce. Partner organizations supported this effort by promoting the survey through their network of employers and subscribers. The survey was also promoted through social media using both targeted ads and online posts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook Employer groups. Responses were sought from employers, public and private, of any size with worksites located in the region, which includes, Washington, Baltimore, and Richmond metro areas. Respondents included C-suite-level leaders and decision-makers involved in reopening plans and activities. The first and second rounds of the Snapshot survey have different samples of respondents. Comparisons between the three surveys reflect changes in the survey sample’s average sentiment and should not be used to generalize to the entire region.