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Businesses See Benefits in Employees Working from Home

This period of forced remote work has radically changed how many businesses operate. Post pandemic, many companies will likely adapt parts of working remotely to save money and boost employee morale.

(TNS) — Ohio’s order closing non-essential businesses due to the coronavirus pandemic forced many companies to adapt to having employees working from home. To some companies, what felt initially like a temporary inconvenience might hasten the transition into a new normal.

Northeast Ohio businesses of all sizes say they’ve seen benefits to having employees working from home instead of a traditional office setting. Employees have enjoyed the conveniences of home offices, and those with young children have more flexible schedules. Companies, meanwhile, say they’ve noticed employees have been more productive amid the pandemic, free from workplace distractions like unnecessary meetings.

An increase in employees working from home could also have broader impacts on a business.

Jobseekers would not be hindered by geography if they could work from home. A company would be free to hire the best candidate even if they live halfway across the U.S. If a company has fewer employees working in an office, it could save on real estate or rent, or perhaps convert to an entirely work-from-home model and altogether abandon a physical space.

In the past, companies may have been reluctant to let their employees work from home out of a concern that it would lead to a decrease in productivity, said Robert “Bob” Smith, the chairman of the board for JobsOhio, the state’s economic-development nonprofit. Smith feels the abrupt shift to work-from-home forced companies to see things differently.

“The realities of working remotely have destroyed many of the myths,” said Smith, also a partner and Cleveland market leader at the wealth management firm Cerity Partners.

Employees working from home or remotely is not novel; companies had workers scattered across the globe or in satellite offices well before the coronavirus pandemic made it more necessary than ever. As technology improved, though, it’s become a more feasible option for a more significant percentage of the workforce.

Now that employees have been able to work from home amid the pandemic effectively, they’ll likely want the option to do so moving forward, said Bill Blausey, the senior vice president and chief information officer for industrial manufacturer Eaton Corp.

“It’s inevitable that more people will want to work this way, will request the flexible arrangements, and will want to move in that direction,” Blausey said.

Business leaders told it’s unlikely they’ll transition to an entirely work-from-home model, at least in the near term. There are too many advantages to having a physical office space; it helps coworkers build camaraderie, and it feels more professional to meet a client in a conference room than at a local Starbucks.

Still, it’s likely many of the work-from-home habits that have emerged from the coronavirus crisis will be here to stay. Attorney Ian Friedman, a partner at the Friedman & Nemecek in Cleveland and president of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, expects his law firm will offer more opportunities for remote work moving forward.

“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” Friedman said. “It could be something where you go into the office when you need to, and work from home when you don’t.”

Working from home could change the way businesses operate

For workers, there’s an undeniable appeal to having the option to do your job from home. Commuters could avoid traffic on the way to and from the office. Parents could have the flexibility to stay home with a sick child without having to take a day off. Dog-owners could take their dog for a walk in the middle of the day.

“This is going to change the way businesses operate, after so much of a large-scale exposure to work-from-home,” said Fred Franks, the CIO of Cleveland-based IT services firm FIT Technologies. “It’s not perfect, but it has a lot of advantages.”

Work-from-home could benefit businesses, too. Group Management Services, a Richfield- based organization that provides human resources and other services to businesses, allowed some employees to work from home before the pandemic. GMS employees have been adapting well to the sudden change, so remote work will likely become more routine, said Christian Tracey, the company’s chief technology officer.

“There’s some people who are getting more done,” Tracey said. “They’re not getting hauled into meetings they probably didn’t need to be at. So in some ways it’s made us more efficient.”

Before the pandemic, roughly 8,000 of the more than 100,000 employees of Eaton Corp. worked from home each day. The company, which manufactures electrical, hydraulic, aerospace and vehicle products, has approximately 24,000 remote workers amid the crisis, Blausey said.

Eaton is using videoconferencing for meetings, but Blausey thinks the company can apply the technology to other aspects of the company’s day-to-day business. Certain Eaton products must go through witness testing, or be approved by government officials or customers before they are shipped. Workers could do the inspections remotely using a process similar to the one that allows doctors to assess patients through videoconferencing, Blausey said.

“In my mind, it’s a better way to do it,” Blausey said. “Why travel, why spend the money if this is a capable way of doing witness testing, as an example.”

If companies allow more of their employees to work from home, they could dramatically increase the pool of candidates for specific jobs. Tracey said GMS could now hire a job seeker who does not live within driving distance of any of the company’s 10 office spaces throughout the eastern U.S.

“It absolutely has changed the thinking as far as how we will recruit and hire,” Tracey said. “Now we don’t have to worry so much about the geographic limitations.”

Working from home has pros and cons for businesses

There are technological impediments to businesses rapidly shifting their employees to work-from-home. Previously, large companies could fortify the internet security around their office building, similar to defending a castle, Franks said. But would need to secure every computer and phone an employee takes home, he said.

“A lot of organizations have already started doing that. But for the ones that haven’t, if they want to take [work-from-home] seriously, they have to,” Franks said.

There are significant opportunities for companies to save money if their employees work from home, though. Reducing rent costs by having smaller offices could be especially appealing to companies that are struggling due to the coronavirus, said Smith, the JobsOhio board chairman.

“Necessity requires them to save money wherever they can, and I think you will see a strong leaning into the opportunity to have workers work remotely,” he said.

Criminal defense attorney Ashley Jones is a solo practitioner with an office in downtown Cleveland, but she shares an Akron office with another lawyer. She thinks it’s possible more solo practitioners or small firms will start sharing space and use work-from-home to reduce the need to be in the office.

“I definitely think it’s teaching us that there are ways businesses can be more lean,” Jones said.

Business leaders told it’s too early to say if the stay-at-home order could lead to smaller business offices, and more employees working remotely. But most expect companies will consider it.

“I think a lot of lawyers have been talking about whether they really need such large spaces,” Friedman said. “I don’t know if the space needs to be what it’s always been.”

©2020 Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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