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The work-from-home debate: How are businesses and experts responding?

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PEORIA (WEEK) -- When shutdowns began due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of companies and millions of employees switched to a work-from-home setting.

Now, with a return to normalcy on the horizon, business owners and experts alike are wondering if remote work is the way of the future.

Patti Yost works remotely as an interior designer in Peoria - helping clients choose their dream home, all while in the comfort of her own.

“I love it – I love staying busy and love having the opportunity to sit down, work from home, throw my elbows up and get stuff done," Yost said.

Yost wasn't always a remote worker, though.

Like many others, her employer - Murray Custom Cabinetry - had to make some changes when the pandemic began.

“We had come out of a slower part of the year anyway, and even had a shop fire a month before the pandemic hit," said Thomas Murray, the company's owner. "How do you continue to operate without having a designer to sit here in front of a client?”

Thomas Murray - owner of Murray Custom Cabinetry - made the decision to move his employee to a remote position when shutdowns began.

Murray says moving Yost remote wasn't easy at first, but over time, she found her groove - and eventually excelled.

“We found that (with Patti) being off site, she is able to focus in on our logistical processes way more – following through with designs, following through with vendors. Getting designs in record time sent from us to our clients," Murray said.

Murray says now, the remote setup is here to stay - and hundreds of businesses are doing the same thing.

A 2020 study by tech group Growmotely found more than 60% of people surveyed prefer the home office, 97% would prefer at least a hybrid situation, and nearly one-third of respondents expect remote work to become the standard.

Colin Corbett - assistant professor of economics at Bradley University - says for most businesses, the future of remote work depends on the company culture.

“Pre-pandemic, nobody realized this was coming, so they didn’t really think to track this very well," Corbett said. "I think a lot of employers are going to try to pay more attention to this going forward.”

Today's employers have a lot to consider when deciding whether remote work should continue - like if there is a difference in workers' productivity.

Corbett says some situations - like Yost's for example - do work, but others might not.

Patti Yost works entirely from home - helping customers design their dream home all while in the comfort of her own.

“Typically I’m in pajamas and I don’t wear shoes – I don’t even have flip-flops on because I’m in my house. If my dog needs to use the bathroom, I can get up and let her out," Yost said.

Experts say for those eager to get back into the office, it might not be an easy transition.

“The real question is, can employers require a vaccination?" said Marc Siegel, a labor and employment attorney based in Chicago. "The answer is yes – employers can not only require a vaccination, but they can require proof of vaccination.”

A recent Marist poll found one in four Americans say they won't get a vaccine, and Siegel says some businesses might need to get creative in order to accommodate everyone.

“Can they get a COVID test – is that going to be sufficient? Can they do temperature checks? Can they ensure masks? What can be done, in a flexible manner, so that everyone can be working together?” Siegel said.

Murray says he expects remote work to play a big role in the success of his business moving forward.

Experts say businesses will have to find the answers to those questions before they return to normal.

But for his cabinetry company, Murray says he intends to stick with the trend, and Yost is in full support of the decision.

“I think that the idea of us in five to 10 years not still having some kind of remote capabilities would seem a little bit ridiculous to me based off the ground that we’ve gained," Murray said.

"To think about living the kind of life that I've always wanted to live, while still being full-time with a successful career, is awesome."

Harry Croton

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