Once temporary because of the pandemic, more employees are working from home permanently - WCF Courier

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Laures said, prior to the pandemic, about 150 employees were offered the option of working remotely.
” There have been some hurdles in shifting employees to working remotely.
For a few, distractions at home made working remotely difficult.
” In 2020, VGM employee Jenny Hughes thought she would be working remotely for a couple of weeks.
” While some remote workers in the Cedar Valley may face technological challenges when working remotely, such as spotty internet connections, slow download times or screens freezing, Cedar Falls Utilities customers enjoy much more reliability.

Once temporary because of the pandemic, more employees are working from home permanently - WCF Courier

When Diane Popelka packed up her office in March 2020, she thought it would only be for a few weeks. Popelka, the director of finance and human resources for the Grout Museum District in Waterloo, was advised by doctors to work from home as the number of COVID-19 cases rose in Black Hawk County. Popelka, of rural Clutier, has health issues that compromise her immune system. Contracting the virus could have serious implications for her. She was not able to return to the workplace for 14 months. With cases of the omicron variant recently on the rise, the scenario recently played out again as Popelka loaded her car with office equipment and supplies for another stint at home. “I’m hoping it won’t last long this time,” she said. Popelka comes into the office once a week to turn in work she has completed and to pick up more. She likes the fact that she is only making the more-than-70-mile roundtrip drive once a week now. “It’s especially nice in the winter,” she said. When Popelka initially approached Grout Executive Director Billie Bailey about working from home, Bailey didn’t hesitate to support Popelka. “She told me to pack up at the end of the day and go home. I’m grateful for that.” Offering optionsLocal businesses are increasingly offering their employees the option of working from home. Sara Laures is the chief people officer for the VGM Group. Her duties include talent, recruitment and human resources for Waterloo facility operations. According to Laures, VGM currently has 450 of its 1,100 employees working from home. “And we have another 250 with hybrid work arrangements,” she said. Those employees split their worktime between home and the office. Laures said, prior to the pandemic, about 150 employees were offered the option of working remotely. “After the pandemic hit, we had to pivot and think differently,” she said. “In April 2020 when the (COVID) numbers in Black Hawk County started going up, we told employees, if your job allows you to, we suggest everyone work from home,” Laures said. “Our employees were thankful,” she said. “We have a family-friendly culture, and we need to keep our employees and our clients safe.” The changes have worked out well for the company and its employees. The benefits for employees have been a better work-life balance, Laures said. “They appreciate the flexibility,” she said. “If working parents need to drop off or pick kids up from daycare, they have the flexibility to do that. “We’ve also seen increased productivity and performance increases in a number of cases, probably because of fewer workplace distractions and interruptions. That was a surprise to some of us. We’ve seen some good numbers coming from those people.” Safety issueAnother big positive for employees in outlying communities is eliminating the commute to the office, especially in the winter, Laures said. “It can be a safety issue for them,” she said. Additionally, by offering a remote option, businesses can attract more people from those communities if the commute is not a consideration for accepting a job offer. “That’s probably the biggest thing,” she said. “We have changed the way we look at recruiting and hiring. We can look nationwide instead of looking just in the local area. We’ve been able to expand our pool.” There have been some hurdles in shifting employees to working remotely. “We had to make some investments in company-issued equipment to get people set up at home,” Laures said. For workers splitting their time between the office and home, VGM offers discounted pricing on office equipment. “So they aren’t toting equipment back and forth,” Laures said. Missed interactionOne downside of working from home is missing out on that face-to-face interaction, Laures said. “People have to take ownership of staying connected with their supervisors and co-workers from home,” she said. For a few, distractions at home made working remotely difficult. “That can certainly be a factor,” she said. “We have had some employees with small children who chose to come back to the office to work. “But I think as a company and as a society, we are more understanding in giving them more grace if there is a pet or a child in the background during a meeting. “There can be instances of employees not managing their time well, but that’s a rarity.” Internet connectivity and speed can sometimes be a challenge, as well. “We’ve had a couple of internet outages, freezing video calls and technology challenges,” she said. “But overall, our employees have adjusted quite well, and they are thankful for the opportunity.” In 2020, VGM employee Jenny Hughes thought she would be working remotely for a couple of weeks. “Two years later, I’m still at home,” she said. Hughes is an account manager for Moxie, a marketing agency under the VGM Group umbrella. She serves as a liaison between the VGM creative team and clients. “I am 100 percent remote,” she said. “I was working from my kitchen table for about six months, because I wasn’t sure how long this would last. Now I have a little home office set up.” Hughes lives in Independence with her husband, who also works from home. She doesn’t see herself returning to working the office. “This has been pretty nice,” she said. “I have more time with my family without the commute, and I find there are fewer distractions. “I do miss seeing my co-workers face to face, but when the COVID numbers are down, we still meet up and do things together. “I’m just really thankful they gave us the option,” she said. “I think that it is a benefit you can extend to your employees, one more tool in the bucket to keep them around. “We have an amazing IT team. The amount of hours they put in when we first went remote was incredible. They’ve been quite amazing. Not every company has a team like that. We’re very fortunate.” While some remote workers in the Cedar Valley may face technological challenges when working remotely, such as spotty internet connections, slow download times or screens freezing, Cedar Falls Utilities customers enjoy much more reliability. “We are fortunate here at CFU,” said General Manager Steve Bernard. “We have been re-investing in our system continuously to increase our speed and reliability. In 2013, we upgraded to all fiber network, and that is connected to every home and every business. It is available to everyone, and almost everyone is hooked up. “In June of 2020, we upgraded our speed to 250 megabits per second. That was right when everyone was staying home because of the pandemic. In hindsight, that was pretty good timing. “People stayed home for work, for school and were accessing streaming platforms for entertainment and home exercise systems.” “While this was important for businesses, we also heard from the Cedar Falls School District and UNI about the value it was to their students’ remote learning and the smooth transition it made for their faculty and staff.” Bernard said other communities in the area offer about a quarter of the bandwidth, and some are as low as 10%. “We have an incredible amount of capacity,” he said. “It is a world-class system. Jeff Kaplan agrees. Kaplan, a remote work expert, is co-founder of LIFTinnovate, a company that assists businesses and organizations address sudden change. “Employees are renegotiating their relationship with work,” he said. “Two of the most important things to employees are compensation and flexibility. They want a work-life balance. Even before the pandemic, there was a trend toward remote work. The pandemic just accelerated it. “Employers never had a real incentive to offer the option,” he said. “There was a natural reluctance. Employers said, ‘Show up, shut up, and do it my way.’ “But with working remotely, we’ve the same or greater productivity. Employers and employees are happier.” Kaplan said instead of financing physical locations for office space, businesses can focus those funds on their core products. “They are not wasting money. That will bring down the cost of goods. Kaplan said working remotely will last long after the pandemic is over. “It’s here and it’s here to stay,” he said “You can’t unscramble an egg.” Kaplan said the challenge will be to keep people apace in terms of technology. “We cannot leave the technically disabled behind. That is really important.” Love 0 Funny 0 Wow 0 Sad 0 Angry 0
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