Members Detail Challenges of Pandemic
Resilience and optimism, fatigue and frustration are just a few emotions that members express in how they and their respective businesses have been impacted by the ongoing pandemic. Forty-two members addressed several issues in the second survey on how COVID-19 shapes their current and future situation and outlook.
Conducted in late August and September, members note that most businesses are either completely working from home (21 percent), utilizing a hybrid model (37 percent) where workers rotate their work site from home and office or giving workers the option (17 percent). Only one-fourth of the respondents (26 percent) say all staff are back in the office full time, typically essential services that require employees to work in the office.
When that situation may change remains an open question. Some certainly enjoy working from home since it increases productivity and personal time; others simply find it difficult with too many distractions, burnout from never getting away from work or missing the personal touch of interacting with colleagues.
Companies may remain flexible for quite some time in giving employees the option to either work from home or come into the office, many respondents note. One member says, “We are hoping to bounce back early next year when restrictions are lifted.” It’s tough to predict, a member says. “Re-entry for employees will be based on vaccine availability and employee comfort level.” And the other worry, another member says, “Slowly return staff to the offices as the pandemic subsides (if this ever happens).”
Those companies that took PPP loans found them beneficial, keeping employees paid and providing security during the early days of the pandemic. Another round may be needed, some suggest. The real worry, though, is understanding the terms of forgiveness and possible tax consequences of the PPP loans.
By and large, COVID-19 has altered the business landscape. Nearly all respondents say it has either affected (48 percent) or somewhat affected (45 percent) their companies’ pipeline. Projects have been delayed or put on hold. It’s a mixed bag as well as some companies are seeing those projects opening up while other members say new projects are hard to come by.
The uncertainty of when workers may or even if they return to work has clouded the office market. “There’s no activity in the office market whatsoever. Nobody knows if social distancing requirements will stay or who will work remotely long term. Accordingly, office users are doing one-year renewals in their existing spaces and tabling the search for new space while they struggle to understand future workplace strategy,” a respondent says.
This dovetails with feedback from clients, members say. “It’s a mixed bag but most clients are trying to find ways to stay afloat and dig for business. Sometimes that’s cementing relationships. Other times, it’s looking for new markets. And everyone seems to tighten their belts,” a member notes.
Fortunately, most of the members’ companies have avoided furloughs. Almost 8 in 10 members say this hasn’t occurred. In some cases, furloughs took place to benefit employees who made more on unemployment or had a seriously ill family member.
Members are doing the best to maintain their sanity during these crazy times. The great outdoors lives up to its reputation, with hiking, walking, gardening, biking, boating and dining al fresco at home helping to relieve stress and the tedium of staying indoors.
It's all part of the work/life balance as the pandemic continues to rage, members say. Frequent breaks help. Turning off the computer or closing the office door at home are necessary, as well, many members say. And, as tough as it may be, remaining positive helps. “Don’t take things too seriously,” a member says. “Don’t be all consumed with the pandemic. Be mindful and appreciate what is going right.”
Many members face a real challenge juggling work and children while at home. “The workload is heavier for some to support those with more challenging home circumstances – small children and virtual schooling support. Schoolwork for children is harder in a virtual setting with more homework,” a respondent says.
It can be a constant juggling act. “The kids’ schedules. Everything is always changing. Never knowing if I’ll have full childcare or if school will ever stay consistent. I have to figure out all the hours that I don’t have kids in childcare or school,” a member says of the challenges.
CREW-St. Louis has been a lifeline for members. Virtual programs and Trivia night help members stay connected. Dine Arounds are popular, especially small, in-person gatherings, members say. “I am loving the small get-togethers,” a member says.