As key metrics related to the spread of the coronavirus continue to decline in New Jersey, many Garden State employers are starting to formulate plans for their workers to return to the office, when the reopening stages established by Gov. Phil Murphy allow.

A recent survey by staffing firm Robert Half found 77% of workers had been asked to work from home since the pandemic began, and of those, 60% said their work-life balance had improved.

These responses in the majority may be irreversible trends even when employees are permitted to work outside their own confines again, according to Dora Onyschak, Robert Half regional manager for Central Jersey.

"Workers are going to want to telecommute more. They've realized that their job is actually doable from home and they may not have realized that before," she said. "Employers are going to have to be a little bit more flexible and prepared for a workforce that is going to want to work remote a little bit more, and workers certainly seem to want to."

The survey put the number of people who realized they could work entirely from home at 63%. Nearly 4 in 5 respondents, 79%, expressed a desire to be allowed to work from home more often in the future.

Enter your number to get our free mobile app

Perhaps one of the survey's most surprising findings was that 1 out of every 5 people, a full 20%, felt that the "new normal" of email exchanges and videoconferences helped them to have better relationships with both their peers and managers than when they were meeting face to face. In fact, 70% said they would welcome fewer in-person meetings and trainings.

Onyschak indicated the newfound preference for digital correspondence was likely due to an increased need to connect to coworkers in disparate environments.

"More transparency and better communication has already been something that we've seen change throughout this time," she said.

As far as an eventual, but perhaps not inevitable, return to the office, workers strongly indicated they wanted to protect their personal space and keep their distance from others, according to Onyschak.

More than half (56%) of those surveyed said they were worried about being in close proximity to coworkers, while slightly less than half (46%) supported changing the office layout.

Onyschak said the latter may happen to some degree anyway, "whether that means you now have an empty desk in between individuals, whether that means things such as limiting people that are in the kitchen, going to get lunch."

She said the days of sitting down in the break room, eating and congregating in groups, may be over — for now.

Other precautions the survey found that workers favor included required mask wearing (52%), staggered shifts (55%) and better cleaning procedures (79%). More than 1,000 office professionals participated in the poll.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.