How the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced businesses’ footprints

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The coronavirus pandemic has, in many ways, rewritten the book on business practices. While the swift transition to a remote workforce came as a shock to many business owners, for some, the change was less abrupt. In both cases, the shift has many companies and employees wondering whether the physical business footprint will ever be the same again.

Necessity drives innovation. Suddenly having to transform to remote work has forced many employees to sharpen their technology skills and get more comfortable working in the digital space — even those who once rejected the notion — making remote work more efficient than many feared it would be.

However, when contemplating the future of the physical workplace, it is important to remember that just because we can conduct remote operations, it doesn’t mean we should or will have to in the future. Undoubtedly, some amount of personal interaction will always be critical — particularly in people-focused industries, like business services or accounting.

Aspects of the recruiting and hiring process always will require forms of in-person interaction moving forward, and the same goes for business development practices and networking. Additionally, employees who are parents know all too well that working from home may not be a feasible long-term solution, as they balance child care and the shift between in-person and virtual learning.

In the short term, the physical footprint of businesses operating in-person has changed significantly. Office spaces that were constructed to accommodate more than 80 people may now be following COVID-19 precautions and do not have the space they need for the same functions. That is one reason that some employers haven’t yet returned to on-site business as usual.

As many companies experience economic hardship related to COVID-19, rental expenses and costs associated with physical spaces are among the line items being evaluated. Government programs, like the Paycheck Protection Program and concessions provided by landlords, have been helpful to cover those costs but will not be extended indefinitely. Without assistance, and amid continued hardship, many businesses are likely to consider eliminating physical spaces to stay afloat.

From what we have seen thus far, all indications are that business travel will be unlikely to take place at pre-pandemic rates in the foreseeable future. Over the last six months, many companies have learned business travel isn’t as much of a necessity as previously thought. Businesses and their clients have discovered efficiencies by spending less on air travel, lodging and gas mileage. These types of expenses are down substantially, and many are likely to rethink allocating significant budgets in these areas moving forward.

Looking ahead, companies should consider what balance between in-person and online interaction is appropriate for their business. At the same time, companies must have the agility and flexibility to adapt to changes quickly, and the mentality, culture and technology to stay the course — despite the challenges that lie ahead.

This sudden change has forced us to accelerate many opportunities to become more efficient, and companies who respond quickly in these circumstances will continue to thrive. It has yet to be seen what the post-pandemic business world will look like, but it’s sure to be different from how it was before.

For businesses looking to stay empowered through these continued times of uncertainty, Rehmann has resources available in its COVID-19 Knowledge Center — whether it’s assistance with new ways of conducting business remotely, help navigating complex human resource matters, or assistance with cash-flow management and projections. Together, we will navigate the hurdles that come our way.

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