Updated 12:51 p.m.
When California issued its stay-at-home orders in March, Laurie Rodriguez got really busy.
She’s in human resources at Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, or SMUD, and she helped set up hundreds of employees to work from their homes.
“Almost overnight, we were able to transition ...1,300 employees from office campus to remote working,” Rodriguez said, who added that about half of the energy company’s 2,200 employees are still working at home.
In late May, SMUD sent employees a survey to find out what they thought of the new operations outside of the office.
“The majority of employees rated their morale or emotional wellness as very positive, or somewhat positive. So, it just kind of pointed to us that remote work was working,” Rodriguez said.
A recent poll commissioned by CapRadio and conducted by the non-profit Valley Vision suggests there’s widespread enthusiasm for home-working in the Sacramento area.
About two-thirds of people polled who are still employed during the pandemic, and live in the eight-county Sacramento region, say they would like to keep doing their job at home for at least two days a week even when the pandemic is over.
Respondents said they like cutting out their commute to save time and money. Others like home-working so they can spend more time with family members, and have a more flexible daily schedule. Some appreciate having more control over their working conditions, such as lighting or room temperature, and doing their jobs without their managers looking over their shoulders.
Many companies are listening and are open to home-working in the future.
“Employers have found that a lot of the things we were worried about that wouldn’t work remotely, actually work quite effectively,” said Jessica Hawthorne, senior vice president with California Employers Association, which helps hundreds of workplaces navigate HR quandaries.
She says a lot of higher-ups who were once reluctant about remote work are now feeling more flexible.
“What the pandemic has done has opened people’s eyes when it really can work, and being able to use work spaces, office spaces more efficiently,” Hawthorne said.
She added that some businesses are even considering selling their buildings, or getting out of leases, to save money.
Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, says the pandemic has started a long-term societal shift when it comes to office culture. As part of that, large employers are actively talking about how to continue telecommuting.
“[Private employers] are finding they are able to achieve the same level of productivity. They are getting the job done and they’re doing it well,” Lapsley said.
But, he added, state lawmakers will have to make some changes to employment law to help private companies accommodate the new workplace culture.
“They ... need public policy changes that will lessen liability risk, provide some changes in eight hour workday and overtime. Because the whole work day, the whole concept, has changed,” Lapsley said.
Of course, there are some downsides to working at home. For instance, employees no longer have water cooler conversations or bump into colleagues for small talk.
That loss of personal connection with coworkers is a downside of remote-working, says Amanda Blackwood, CEO of the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce. But she said she’s not surprised that local residents want to keep working at home.
She said if regional businesses are going to support more home-working culture, the area needs to expand 5G and broadband capacity, and boost the digital skillset of its workforce.
“We need that infrastructure to be in place so we can maintain all of this,” Blackwood said. “The time is now to say, yeah, let’s invest, if this is a new way we’re working.”
SMUD’s Laurie Rodriguez says, when this pandemic is over, the company will embrace a “hybrid” work model where people can arrange to work from home but come to the office when necessary.
“When we talk about returning, it’s really not ‘back to normal,’ it’s a ‘new normal,’” she said. “And remote work plays a significant role in that.”
Editor note: SMUD’s CEO is on the board of Valley Vision, which partnered with CapRadio on the recent COVID poll.
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