The pandemic has ushered in a new normal for many American workers: working from home. While many jobs cannot be performed from home — including jobs in manufacturing, health care and hospitality — more than 70 percent of American workers were working from home last December, according to a Pew Research study. And 54 percent of American workers would like to continue to work from home after the coronavirus pandemic ends, the study said.
The result is what may be a permanent shift to more remote work for a variety of companies. Rachel Lopez, the office administrator at the co-working space A Corner Office on East All Saints Street in Frederick, said that while the largest company that rents space in the building has yet to return, about 60 percent of other leasers have. She said, ultimately, the choice will be up to individual companies to make, but she sees many companies still prioritize in-person work.
“I think your environment makes a huge difference. For some, it’s hard to separate work from home,” she said.
Rick Weldon, the CEO of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, agreed. While the chamber has not been able to go back to working in-person full-time due to rules placed on its county-owned office, he would still prefer to in the future.
“I grew up in an era where interpersonal collaboration was an important part of a workday,” he said.
The reluctance by some companies to drop offices entirely could be the reason many office spaces in Frederick remain open. Brandon Cannon, assets manager at Ruppert Properties in Frederick, said the company hasn’t lost many of its leases during the pandemic. However, he says that might be because many of them haven’t been up for renewal in that time frame. The company currently has about 25,000 square feet of office space to rent.
“It was obviously slower last year while people were working from home,” Cannon said. “But we’ve seen activity really pick up in the last three to four weeks as far as people inquiring about spaces, people wanting to tour spaces.”
However, Ruppert is currently at full capacity for its 220,000 square feet of warehouse and flex space in the county. Cannon credits this to the rise of e-commerce during the pandemic as well as the influx of biotech companies moving to Frederick.
“You’re seeing retailers kind of vacate the brick and mortar, but they need last-mile distribution, so that’s really helped drive that,” he said. “And a lot of the companies that were essential during the pandemic were still operating, HVAC, electricians, things like that.”
Now that a quarter of residents in Frederick County are vaccinated, many businesses are looking to move back to a more regular in-person schedule. But the demand for remote work has made that process a bit more challenging. An Owl Labs survey found that 59 percent of respondents would rather pick an employer that offers remote work over those that don’t.
Weldon stressed the importance of implementing human resources policies for remote work, even if a company has no plan of ever being fully remote.
“I tell all of our members that I talk to, if your personnel policy or your HR manual doesn’t address remote work, add it,” Weldon said. “If your information technology plan doesn’t address remote access and firewalls and servers, you need to put it in there now.”
Amanda Haddaway, CEO of HR Answerbox, a human resources consulting firm, said it’s important for companies to update their employee handbooks at least once a year anyway.
“If an organization is planning to stay remote, it would be advantageous to review existing policies to ensure that they are still applicable to a remote environment,” she wrote in an email. “Clear policies help employees understand what is and isn’t acceptable workplace behavior, whether that’s remote or in the office.”
She suggested employers take a look at the technology they use, how they stay in touch with remote workers and expectations of responsiveness when crafting their guidelines.
“Most employees want to know what’s expected of them, and remote work policies help with that,” she wrote. “I don’t know that the actual policy helps with retention, but certainly having workplace flexibility and the option to work remotely some or all of the time is something that is attractive to prospective hires and employees.”