More than a third of business leaders do not foresee the majority of staff returning to the office or workplace until the second quarter of this year, according to data from the Institute of Directors (IoD).
And 7 per cent think the issue will not arise at all, with all or most of their staff working remotely in future.
While 30 per cent of employers believe staff could return as soon as the first quarter, the largest cohort (37 per cent) believe it will be the second quarter. Just 8 per cent believe it will be in January, while only 6 per cent believe it will be in February.
About 10 per cent said it would be July-September, while 3 per cent forecast it would not occur until the end of the year.
The new research also reveals that almost a quarter of business leaders see the biggest risk facing their organisations as “a return of tight public health restrictions caused by Covid-19 and its variants”.
The next biggest risk was labour sourcing and the ability to retain staff (18 per cent), followed by global supply chain issues (7 per cent), rising costs of raw materials (7 per cent), EU-UK trade and political relations issues (6 per cent), and geopolitical or economic instability (6 per cent).
There was a note of optimism, however, in the finding that 31 per cent of business leaders are more upbeat about the economy than in the previous quarter, with 28 per cent more pessimistic and 41 per cent indicating “no change” in their view from the previous three months.
Maura Quinn, chief executive of the IoD in Ireland, said: "With many staff returning to the workplace for at least some of the time during autumn 2021, the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 has seen a significant return to remote working.
“While the rollout of the booster vaccine programme has been swift and widespread, it looks like the public health restrictions already in place will remain so for the foreseeable future.”