As the pandemic slowly begins to ease its grip, a sampling of major Colorado Springs office-based employers shows most are planning a hybrid return to the office that will still include working from home as well.
Employers ranging from nonprofit Junior Achievement and financial giant Ent Credit Union to technology companies Quantum Metric and Insurance Technologies as well as defense contractors Infinity Systems Engineering and Parsons nearly all plan to let employees to split their time between working at home and in the office, with supervisor approval, once COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted. That's a huge change from how most employers operated before the pandemic, when just a small percentage of employees were working from home.
Automaker Ford Motor Co. became the latest corporate giant to adopt a hybrid home-office work model when the company this month told about 30,000 employees they could mostly work from home indefinitely with supervisor approval. Employees would still come into the office for group meetings and projects that require face-to-face interaction.
Not all jobs lend themselves to working from home — construction workers, pilots, flight attendants, doctors, nurses and employees at restaurants, retailers, hotels and manufacturing plants can't do their jobs from home.
On the other side of the coin, nearly all of the employees at two of the largest call centers in Colorado Springs, operated by insurer USAA and wireless giant T-Mobile, are still working from home without a firm schedule to return to the office.
Some employers have a mix of remote and office-based employees.
For example, Ent is allowing office-based employees, which make up nearly two-thirds of its 1,300 employees, to work at home part of the time, but tellers and other employees in branches who work face-to-face with customers don't have that option.
Ent sent office employees home, based on the availability of laptop computers, earlier in the pandemic and they have been "slowly and steadily" returning to the office since January with about 90% working at the credit union's offices, said Matt Gendron, Ent's chief engagement officer. Office employees are allowed to work from home two days a week, with supervisor approval.
"We haven't determined how long the work-from-home policy will last. It requires supervisor approval and will be decided on department by department, based on need. The policy doesn't apply to front-line employees who directly serve members," Gendron said. "We took care of our employees during the pandemic; no one was laid off or furloughed."
Infinity Systems Engineering has used a hybrid home-office model throughout the pandemic for much of its engineering staff, said Jessica Williams, the company's vice president of operations. Engineers with top-secret clearance must work in a secure laboratory or on a military base when completing projects that require that clearance level, but can work from home on other tasks.
Williams said Infinity sent most employees home to work early in the pandemic, unless they had a reason to work in the office, a secure laboratory or military base. Employees who continue to work from home must have supervisor approval. She said the company eventually wants all employees to return to the office, but hasn't yet set a schedule for when that will happen.
"At some point, we will require employees to return to the office. It will depend on whether it makes sense to keep an employee at home, but very few of our employees want to," Williams said. "We still do the majority of our meetings online, even if all of the participants are in the office, to ensure the safety of all employees."
Defense giant Parsons, which owns both Polaris Alpha and Braxton Science & Technology Group, hasn't told employees to return to the office and plans to indefinitely continue "flexible work arrangements," which include home-based and remote work, said Bryce McDevitt, a Parsons spokesman. The choice of whether to work in the office or not is "between the employee and their manager, and our customer requirements," he said.
Remote work and flexible work arrangements are "at the crux of flexible work arrangements," McDevitt said. "What we have seen with the acceleration of technology — anything is possible — we look at what is in the best interest of our employees, customers and teams all over the world. I think this is here to stay."
Parsons has told employees it wants them to feel "empowered to design a preferred work arrangement that best suits their work and contractual requirements, addresses individual needs, aligns with local regulations, and supports a safe work environment for our workforce. Based on employee feedback, we understood that flexibility and adaptability were key and implemented processes and work-flows that best support" them.
Junior Achievement's 40 employees at its Colorado Springs headquarters already are working remotely from home, said Ed Grocholski, the nonprofit's senior vice president of brand and spokesman.
Once pandemic restrictions are lifted, he said Junior Achievement employees will have the option of continuing to work remotely, come in the office on a flexible schedule or a combination of both.
"We haven't determined when we will return to the office. It will depend on vaccination schedules and what other businesses do. We hope by fall we will be back in our facility," Grocholski said. "We are still working out the process on how we will do it. The senior management team will have some latitude but we will have to work out the specifics. A lot of this will be clarified over the next several months."
Ivanti, a Utah-based information technology provider that acquired Colorado Springs-based Cherwell Software earlier this year, plans to offer employees "as much flexibility as possible" about where they work once the company reopens its offices, CEO Jim Schaper said. The shift to remote work is "here to stay," though the company must still consider business and customer needs, he said.
Technology startup Quantum Metric was no stranger to remote work before the pandemic began — about half of its employees worked from home or some other location, said Glenn Trattner, the company's chief operating officer. All of the company's employees now work remotely, but he expects the ratio to return to its previous level after the pandemic ends. Quantum helps companies find their best online revenue opportunities, using real-time customer feedback to more quickly build and improve digital products.
"We were always in hybrid model and were never 100% in the office. Some were in office some days and some were remote other days," Trattner said. "Our plan is to wait and see right now, but at a high level we want to return to our offices in Colorado Springs, Denver, Bethesda, Md., and El Segundo, Calif., at the same time. Our intent is to work on a normal schedule once that happens, but I expect we will tilt more the remote work side at that point."
Quantum Metric will offer employees the opportunity to return to the office, but will let employees choose, in consultation with their supervisor, when and where they want to work, Trattner said. The company has been able to expand its staff quickly during the pandemic by recruiting nationwide and allowing employees to work remotely; it couldn't accommodate all of its 250 employees in its offices if all chose to work there, he said.
"People have gotten used to different ways of working" during the pandemic, Trattner said. "It has helped us to be able to hire without considering geography. That allowed us to add staff more quickly" to meet surging demand for its products, largely from more customers buying more merchandise online during the pandemic, instead of purchasing the same items from brick-and-mortar retailers.
All of Insurance Technologies employees also are working remotely, but the Colorado Springs-based company hopes to reopen its offices by mid-summer, said Tammy Shumisky, the company's chief operating officer. That doesn't mean that all employees will return to the office — those who meet customers face-to-face will need to be in the office, but some employees have told them company they want a more flexible schedule that includes remote work, she said. Like Quantum Metric, the pandemic also has allowed Insurance Technologies to recruit employees nationwide to accommodate its rapid growth, she said.
"I suspect that after a year of being fully remote, there are some employees who will want a more flexible schedule and employees who want that option," Shumisky said. "How does our work space look going forward? We have a lot of space in the Atrium and First Bank buildings downtown (52,000 square feet) and we will have to evaluate how much we need if some employees stay remote. We want to make sure the office is a desirable place to return."