CEO Kim Huckaby came back to her office 2 ½ months after the start of California’s stay-at-home order, and 30 days after her return, only four workers were with her full time at Bakersfield Association of Realtors headquarters.
It’s possible the other five will never leave their home offices completely, she said — and from a productivity and stress-management standpoint, that suits her fine.
“I think for the long term everything has changed,” she said. “I don’t think we (as a society) will ever go back to the way we used to do things at this point.”
Many local managers see it the same way: Working from home isn’t for everybody, but for a lot of people it’s a godsend.
There are widespread reports of increased productivity. Work and home life are finally in balance for a lot of people. Some businesses are reaping savings they might be able to nail down for the long term.
But others are glad to return to the structured, yet serendipitous environment that can only be found in proper offices. They’re tired of blurring the line between work and home.
As the pandemic’s trajectory continues to shift and Kern County companies assess the benefits and drawbacks of allowing some employees to work from home, a key theme that has emerged is the value of flexibility.
Local employers say the arrangement has worked out better than many expected — and in some circumstances, people may end up spending some time at the main office and the rest of their work week at their dining room table.
Another theme, or rather lesson learned, is the need for communication. Take away watercooler camaraderie and people miss it, no matter how many Zoom meetings you schedule.
Kat Clowes, an educational consultant at March College Planning, a local college admissions and career search firm, said the company’s entire staff was still working from home in early July. That’s partly because the operation doesn’t have the room for social distancing across its offices.
There are morning virtual staff meetings to lay out the day’s goals, she said, and evening videoconferences to see what was accomplished.
Many clients prefer online interaction because it’s easier to schedule, she said. Now the company is considering expanding nationally because it’s become clear much can be done remotely. The trend could end up saving the company money on real estate needs, Clowes said.
Still, she’s torn.
“While we’ve adjusted well to working remotely,” she wrote in an email, “I can’t … shake (the feeling) that there’s something magical about being in the office and having somewhere to go to work every day. Zoom just doesn’t replace that.”
Nancy C. Belton, managing partner at Bakersfield CPA firm Daniells Phillips Vaughan & Bock, said she was impressed how well her people adjusted to working from home. That said, most had returned to the office by early July and those who hadn’t were either anxious to get back or had a personal reason not to.
“With few exceptions, our team members have decided they appreciate the separation of work life and home life and are glad to have that back, or looking forward to getting it back,” Belton wrote in an email.
Local business owners tell Kelly Bearden, director of Cal State Bakersfield’s Small Business Development Center, that some of their employees thrive and others don’t when working remotely.
Savings on real estate can vary, he said. The pandemic has allowed large companies to cut back on offices but small businesses often must make expensive modifications to their physical layout, including making extra room for social distancing, he said.
The shift to remote work hasn’t been difficult at business-process outsourcing company Stria. Vice President of Sales and Marketing Scott D. Garrison said the company is able to track employees’ productivity and time spent working. They’re able to complete tasks securely online, just like Stria does for its customers.
Yes, some employees require more structure and fewer of the distractions that come with working next to children and pets. But Garrison said he expects to see greater use of remote-work technology going forward.
Aera Energy LLC, the Bakersfield-based oil producer, has been pleased with the resilience of its people forced to work from home during the pandemic, spokeswoman Cindy Pollard said. There’s been an overall increase in productivity and the company is looking at how to leverage that for the long term.
But Aera is also planning for a day when much of its workforce returns to the office.
Pollard said the company expects to bring back some limited share of employees, starting with those comfortable with returning to their cubicles on an alternating, one-week-on, one-week-off schedule, adding that there will be accommodations for social distancing in elevators, bathrooms and break rooms.
No one will be forced to return to the office if they’re not ready, she said. People with child care and caregiver responsibilities will be accommodated.
She said that with employee connectivity at stake, increasing frequency communication has been key. So has flexibility.
“What this has shown to us is the importance of that flexibility in terms of employee engagement,” Pollard said.
In another sign of work-from-home’s far-reaching impacts, Facebook is planning a “Summer of Support” training session for business owners that will feature tips on how to survive and grow in the new work environment, as well as advice on balancing work and home life.
John McFarland, senior vice president of client development at Worklogic HR, said one of his team members works from home and it’s going well: They use Microsoft Teams to chat, speak, videoconference and collaborate on documents. And because clients are spread across the country, working remote is no drawback.
The biggest challenge now, he said, is finding the right software to continue producing the company’s podcast.