This is the first of a two-part story on the shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on northern Nevada companies and workers.
Working from home — at least part of the time — increasingly is becoming routine at companies in Reno and Sparks.
Eight months after employers scrambled when pandemic-related restrictions closed most traditional offices for several weeks, executives say they’ve learned learn to navigate the new-look workplace and don’t expect to see a day when everyone works at the office every day.
Prominence Health Plan, for instance, recently opened the door for employees to voluntarily return to the office if they found that working from home was a problem. But more than 50% of the staff of the Reno-based health-insurance provider still works remotely.
Often, remote work brought increased efficiency.
“Our team is required to travel less, meetings that were hard to schedule have gotten easier, and overall more time can be spent on creative solutions,” said Kevin Jones, chief operating officer of KPS3, a Reno-based marketing agency. “It’s enabled us to move faster and work better.”
Many remote workers are more connected with their jobs, executives say.
“We have experienced a positive surge in employee engagement and satisfaction,” said Philip Ramirez, chief compliance officer with Prominence Health Plan. “We found that the majority of our teams are just as effective working remotely as they are in the office.”
But it hasn’t been for everyone.
“Morale was a mixed bag,” said Kat Geiger, founder and chief executive officer of Thrive Wellness of Reno, an interdisciplinary mental health treatment center. “Some people really enjoyed the efficiency of working from home and preferred the time alone. Some did not. Some people missed the socialization and inherent community — the watering hole, water-cooler moments of connection that office culture provides.”
Norma Havens and Bob Belknap of USA Fleet Solutions, a company that provides fleet-management solutions for businesses and government agencies, note that communication has proven key to work-from-home success. The company provides daily check-ins for staff members who have the choice of working at home or in the office, and it relies heavily on technology such as Zoom to keep close contact with customers.
Strengthening use of technology
In many cases, the move to remote work merely accelerated trends that already were well underway.
Darrell Plummer, owner of Sierra Nevada Properties, said sales agents at the real estate brokerage already were working in a hybrid model, although their use of digital tools increased dramatically as video walk-throughs became routine and most transactions became entirely digital.
Gloria Petroni of Petroni Law Group said her firm offered secure cloud-based data storage, online signings and paperless options before the pandemic, and continues to strengthen its digital offerings.
“We enjoyed introducing our clients to virtual meeting capabilities and felt a sense of accomplishment when they experience positive results with the meetings,” she said. The law firm continues to work entirely remotely, maintaining a physical office mostly for clients to drop off or pick up documents.
Balancing the benefits of remote work
While protection of employees’ health is by far the biggest consideration, companies also gauge their customers’ desires as they consider the future of remote-work.
Some clients strongly support remote relationships.
“Many of our first-time clients prefer telehealth because the idea of therapy can be daunting,” said Geiger at Thrive Wellness. “Meeting from home can feel more safe and private, and as a result, clients open up more.”
Plummer expects the real estate business will be permanently changed.
“Remote work has affected the real estate sector in a very good way,” he said. “It has forced some agents who were behind on technology to embrace it as much as possible and explore it as a way to find and work with clients.”
As a result, the home-selling process has become quicker and safer, creating higher satisfaction among clients and agents alike, Plummer added.
Not everyone is sold on the future of remote work.
Fennemore Craig, a big law firm, decided to move forward with plans to relocate from downtown to new offices at Rancharrah, despite the pandemic and the growth of remote work.
Craig Etem, director of the office, said the firm believes a physical office allows for better collaboration and more opportunities for growth as young lawyers work closely with experienced colleagues.
The firm worries, too, about the effects of “Zoom fatigue” on staff who spend long hours in front of their computers.
Plus, Etem says the new traditional office offers amenities that simply aren’t available at most home offices.
“The waterfront location is pretty neat,” he says.
John Seelmeyer is a business writer and editor in Reno. In his 40-year career, he has edited publications in Nevada, Colorado and California and written several thousand published articles about business and finance.