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Survey: Over half of employees in Maui County worked remotely during pandemic

Many businesses say they plan to continue offering work-at-home options

Over half of Maui County workers transitioned to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many are still at their home desks, a survey of more than 300 businesses and nearly 1,000 employees in Maui County has found.

Prior to the pandemic, the amount of Hawaii’s remote workers was estimated to be between 4.3 and 5.5 percent, which later rose to more than half the employed population, according to a recent study by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

About 56 percent of Maui County residents ages 18 years and older worked remotely or were looking for remote work at any point from March 2020 to Aug. 31, 2021, the report said.

The report is based on the results of two different surveys conducted by DBEDT with assistance from a Hawaii research firm, Anthology Research, between September and January, on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on remote work practices, experiences and plans from both the employer and employee perspectives.

A total of 1,661 businesses responded statewide, including 314 in Maui County, while 5,451 employees participated in the survey, including 936 in Maui County.

“The data collected from this study provides a better understanding of Hawaii’s changing economic landscape that both employers and employees are facing largely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” DBEDT Director Mike McCartney said in a news release Friday. “What we learned is that some industries were naturally more resilient and able to minimize the impacts of the pandemic because of the nature of the work.”

In the report, the biggest concerns raised by Maui County businesses included technical challenges due to unreliable internet connectivity, difficulty in collaboration and teamwork, and difficulty in monitoring and supervising work.

Despite these concerns, about 29 percent of Maui County businesses that offered remote work indicated that they would allow remote work for all workdays post-pandemic; 26.6 percent reported being undecided; 21 percent plan to have all employees return to the office once the pandemic is over, but will offer remote work options in the near future; and 17 percent will allow remote work on some days.

A large majority of local firms (75.4 percent) also do not expect to make any changes to their office space post-pandemic, which is in line with the rest of the state, according to the report. The remaining minority said they would reduce office space to adjust to more employees working at home.

Only about 15 percent of responding Hawaii businesses actually had a long-term remote work policy already in place prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, while an additional 23.4 percent of businesses implemented a policy during the shutdown.

Businesses in Honolulu County were most likely to have a remote work policy at some point since March 2020 (44.2 percent), compared to Maui County (29 percent), Hawaii County (28.8 percent) and Kauai County (25.5 percent).

Maui County industries experiencing the highest levels of remote work included the information sector (75 percent), finance and insurance (62.5 percent) and manufacturing (55.6 percent). Statewide, remote working was most common in the industries of professional, scientific and technical services (75.7 percent); finance and insurance (75.5 percent); and information (62.8 percent).

Less than half of Maui County firms (47 percent) with remote workers actually made financial investments to enable remote work. Of the businesses that did invest in and implement changes for their employees, the poll showed that about 88 percent of respondents bought items like laptops, monitors or desks, and about 79 percent implemented new communication software, like Zoom, Microsoft Teams or WebEx.

A large majority of Hawaii private employer businesses reported either positive (30.5 percent) or neutral (49.8 percent) experiences with remote work compared to working from an office, citing long-term benefits to employee satisfaction, reduced operational costs and incentives to recruit and retain talent including off-island talent, according to the report.

“Those businesses that made investments in their digital infrastructure may be able to reap the benefits beyond the pandemic, from being able to continue offering remote work as an employee incentive, to accessing expanded markets through digital platforms for exporting products and services,” McCartney said.

Statewide, not having to commute to work was/is a major incentive for remote workers (61.2 percent), as well as flexibility in scheduling (52.5 percent) and freedom to live where they want (50.8 percent).

On a scale of 1 to 5, Maui County employees gave remote work an overall evaluation rating of 3.35, with a 3.61 rating for employee satisfaction and a 3.16 rating for customer/client satisfaction.

About 63 percent of those who have worked remotely in Maui County at any point during the pandemic recommended that broadband infrastructure be improved in order to better facilitate remote work, while about 60 percent suggested increasing remote work hubs/co-working locations. About 41 percent said that they would recommend a greater awareness of best practices for offering remote work opportunities.

Studying a digital economy can help to develop opportunities for growth, understanding gaps, as well as impacts on other parts of Hawaii’s economic system, McCartney said.

Local businesses can continue to take advantage of digital platforms for meetings, hiring, management and collaborating, while Hawaii’s workforce can compete nationally or globally for remote work opportunities that can “contribute to higher wages and a higher quality of life,” he said.

“As we continue to learn how to live with the COVID-19 virus, our economic recovery will accelerate especially over the coming months, largely driven by the return of tourism,” he said. “We hope that the results from this study will help to facilitate constructive dialogue between Hawaii’s businesses and their employees to determine their future working arrangements.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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