Southern Maryland- The number of employees teleworking has risen significantly in Southern Maryland. In an interview, George Clark, the ride-share coordinator and employee outreach specialist for the Tri-County Council of Southern Maryland stated that 30% to 35% of employers now offer teleworking options to their employees compared to a meager 7% before the pandemic.
In Clark’s opinion, many employers who did not entertain the option of teleworking prior to the pandemic are now starting to learn about its benefits. “What we saw is some micromanagers wouldn’t allow telework. They are finding out how successful (teleworking) is.”
Other surveys have shown that this trend is not only affecting Southern Maryland but the entire United States. A survey by Flexjobs showed that only 3.4% of the US workforce worked remotely in 2019, but that climbed to nearly 50% within the first quarter of 2020.
However, as more employers embrace teleworking, there are concerns regarding its long-term impact. According to George Clark, brick and mortar office spaces are definitely less important nowadays, and that although they don’t want to see empty office space he admitted, “We don’t know what is going to happen if a man finds out he is just as productive by not spending overhead for an office space.”
“What is the impact on the economic development side?” Clark asked rhetorically. “We don’t know.”
A survey by PwC of 133 US-based executives and 1,200 office workers seems to lend weight to Clark’s concerns. It showed that 83% of employers felt remote work has been successful and have no issues with employee productivity, and 71% of employees felt the same.
The same survey also indicated that only 17% of employees wanted to get back to the office as soon as possible while the rest were in favor of limited remote work, increasing the level of remote work, or working remotely most or all of the time. Essentially these results seem to indicate that many employers are likely to allow teleworking at least partially even after the pandemic is over.
In view of the statistics, Clark’s feeling that there’s going to be a ‘battle’ to settle on the new normal once the pandemic is over and businesses resume their standard operations seems to make sense.
He postulates that the usage of the public transit system by commuters after the pandemic will be one of the indicators as to whether things are going back to normal or teleworking is here to stay. That is partly due to the fact that many residents in South Maryland work out of county and need to commute to work – including 77% in Charles County, 65% in Calvert, and 68% in St. Mary’s County.
Prior to the pandemic, many of these residents would regularly commute to work on buses or vanpool services. However that is no longer the case, and as Clark observes, “We already know riding is down on commuter buses 90%. We are seeing it also with local transits. We know we are going to see a loss in the vanpool.”
As far as vanpool services are concerned, Clark noted that they are currently suspended due to lack of demand. Similarly, he stated there are fewer commuter buses in services, and Charles County has dropped from 108 daily trips to 44.
David Straus the executive director of the Association for Commuter Transportation has made a similar observation. He said that transit services across the entire country are operating at sub-levels of service. However, he feels that trend is unlikely to change in the short term.
When discussing the future of commuting, Straus remarked, “You probably will not see the same proportion of commuters returning to public transit. Telecommuting, for most, is really the preferred method of getting to work. … Just stay in your house. We, as an organization, are definitely encouraging employers — who are able to have their employees work from home — to do so.”
Until the number of new cases falls and people begin to return to normal it is unknown what the impact of teleworking will be. All indications seem to show that it is here to stay, but how it will affect brick and mortar offices, commuting services and other areas remains to be seen.