Page 30 - BusinessWest March 17, 2021
P. 30

Remote Possibilities
When Will Employees Come Back to the Office? And Should They?
MBy Joseph Bednar
ost of Big Y’s 11,000 employ- ees — those who stock shelves, prepare food, work the cashier lines, and do any number of other tasks —
must do their jobs on site, in a specific loca- tion. But at Big Y’s 300-employee-strong customer-support center in Springfield, which supports those frontline workers, about 70% of them have worked remotely since the start of the pandemic.
“This past year, we learned that remote work can work, and it allows for a lot of flex- ibility for individuals,” said Michael Galat, vice president of Employee Services at the supermarket chain. “That being said, we’re a company where we stress collaboration and teamwork, and that has definitely been a challenge at times. Meetings using technology are different than having in-person meetings. It definitely can work, but there are pros and cons to it.”
Meredith Wise says employers run the gamut when it comes to bringing back remote workers; some are anxious to do so, while others may see value in changing their model altogether.
The company’s pandemic response team was quick to set up safety protocols last spring to protect the thousands of customer-facing, frontline employees, but it also set many employees up with the necessary technology to work from home, put together a best-practices guide for working remotely, and has carefully followed the public-health data to determine when to bring them back.
One important finding? Productivity never flagged — which tracks with accounts from many other area employers over the past 12 months. Thus, many employers feel no rush to bring everyone back before the pandemic is in the rear view — and that poses a question no one expected last March: does every employee really have to come back? And what if they don’t want to?
Most employers last March thought shut- downs would last a couple months. But a year later, millions of workers are still working from home — and the result has been a national experiment with remote work that has borne some surprising data.
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