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New reasons to think the work-from-home revolution is overblown

One year after the Covid-19 pandemic forced millions of workers to start clocking in from home, many companies are thinking about how to bring their employees back into the office.

A number of firms think the past 12 months have proven the merits of remote work, and have pledged more flexible schedules. But increasingly, there are signs the work-from-home revolution could have its limits.

What's happening: Most major global companies no longer intend to trim their physical footprint after the pandemic, according to a KPMG survey of 500 CEOs published Tuesday. Only 17% of CEOs expect to make reductions, versus 69% in August. A mere 30% said they would have most employees working remotely two to three days a week.

"This suggests that either downsizing has already taken place, or plans have changed as the impact of extended, unplanned, remote working has taken a toll on some employees," KPMG said in its report.

A survey of 1,450 corporate executives in North America published by Accenture (ACN) last month also showed that the shift to home working may not be as dramatic as first expected.

Executives estimated that 18% of employees had permanent flexible arrangements before the pandemic hit. After the pandemic, they predicted that would increase to just 25% on average.

"I expected that number to be higher," Jimmy Etheredge, Accenture's CEO of North America, told me this week.

Etheredge thinks the number will increase as discussions continue. At his company, which plans to keep flexible arrangements in place at least through the summer, remote work will likely be managed on a project-by-project basis.

While some customers in sectors like retail have been showing up every day — and may expect their consultants to do the same — others have indicated they're comfortable managing virtual professional relationships.

"Really, it will come down to client by client," Etheredge said.

Some companies are moving ahead with plans to cut back on expensive real estate, including three of Britain's biggest banks. But the surveys are an indication that not everyone is willing to make a gamble on more permanent remote work options just yet.

Watch this space: The pandemic has also renewed conversations about mental health, forcing employers to be more responsive to concerns about burnout and overwork, Etheredge observed.

That was apparent this week, when Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO David Solomon pledged to keep Saturdays free for investment bankers and speed up the hiring of junior employees after a group of analysts described "inhumane" working conditions, including 95-hour weeks and instances of workplace abuse.

"This is something that our leadership team and I take very seriously," Solomon said in a voice message sent to staff Sunday.

White House aides prep $3 trillion jobs package for Biden


White House advisers are expected to present a two-part, $3 trillion jobs and infrastructure proposal to President Joe Biden as soon as this week, according to two people familiar with the plan.

The latest: The proposal, which Biden's top advisers have been deliberating over for weeks, would be segmented into two separate parts — one focused on infrastructure and clean energy, and a second focused on what's being termed the "care economy," with a focus on key domestic economic issues, my CNN colleague Phil Mattingly reports.

The pitch would be a major step toward enacting key elements of the jobs agenda that Biden laid out during his campaign, with a suite of potential tax increases on corporations and the wealthy as options to cover some of the costs.

White House officials stressed that no final decisions have been made. Biden still has to review the proposals and plans to consult heavily with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the scale and legislative sequencing of the next key pillar of his agenda.

But as details of Biden's next big legislative priority take shape, investors and businesses are watching closely.

On the radar: Executives from major oil companies including Chevron, Exxon, BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips met virtually Monday with Biden's national climate advisor Gina McCarthy, an industry source told my CNN Business colleague Matt Egan.

Following the meeting, the American Petroleum Institute pledged to cooperate with the Biden administration on the climate crisis.

"We are committed to working with the White House to develop effective government policies that help meet the ambitions of the Paris Agreement and support a cleaner future," API CEO Mike Sommers, who participated in the meeting, said in a statement.

Movie theaters think they can start making money again


Cineworld will begin a phased reopening of its Regal theaters in the United States next month.

The company, which is the world's second largest movie theater operator, said Tuesday that it will open some theaters on Apr. 2, with showings of "Godzilla vs. Kong," my CNN Business colleague Hanna Ziady reports. More cinemas will open on Apr. 16 with "Mortal Kombat."

"With capacity restrictions expanding to 50% or more across most US states, we will be able to operate profitably in our biggest markets," CEO Mooky Greidinger said.

Last week, AMC, the world's biggest movie theater chain, said that 99% of its US theaters will be open by the end of this month.

The pandemic meant that the release of more than a dozen major films was delayed. Some, like Disney's "Mulan," skipped theaters altogether. That hammered companies like Cineworld and AMC (AMC), which lacked big films to draw even limited crowds.

"The pandemic has accelerated what was already a narrowing window between when films could be seen in theaters and when they could be viewed at home," CNN media analyst Bill Carter wrote in a recent column.

Investor insight: Cineworld shares fell Tuesday, but have logged gains of more than 60% this year on excitement about reopening. AMC Entertainment's shares, which have been swept up in recent waves of retail trading enthusiasm, have jumped nearly 490%.

Up next


Adobe (ADBE) and GameStop (GME) report earnings after US markets close.

Also today: New US home sales for February post at 10 a.m. ET.

Coming tomorrow: The latest data on US crude inventories will arrive as oil prices slide once again.

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