Although widespread vaccinations are making it safer for workers to return to their offices, several Portland businesses have seen the merit of offering remote work as a permanent option.
While the pandemic caused millions to lose their jobs last year, it also forced many employers and employees to reevaluate the model of doing business entirely in person.
More than 15 months after the coronavirus pandemic hit Maine, thousands of Portland workers continue to work from home for at least a portion of the week. Some will never be required to return to the office.
Included among those are employees of Trueline, a Portland-based marketing and branding agency. Chief Executive Officer Haj Carr on June 28 said he made the decision last week to make all of Trueline’s operations remote forever. The decision came even after Trueline moved into a 10,000-square-foot office at 561 Congress St. last year.
Carr said the company has a five-year lease, and while a “small handful of people” will continue to report to the office, he now plans to sublet the space and rent a smaller space.
After the lease is up, Carr said he will likely purchase a small office in Portland where Trueline can hold meetings with clients and allow employees to come in when they have to, as well as offer space for employee wellness.
The pandemic and resulting remote work format, Carr said, forced Trueline to examine each employee’s role, duties, and the work required, which allowed it to evaluate productivity through the work being done.
“We say … get your work done, and live and do whatever the hell you want to do,” he said. “I don’t care as long as you’re getting it done.”
People with less-accommodating supervisors are taking it upon themselves to stay at home forever by quitting their jobs. Four million Americans quit their jobs in April, CNBC reported last week.
But many workers are also satisfied with their current arrangement. One of those is Portland resident and Unum employee David Moore, 25.
Moore started working for Unum in November 2019 and had only been on the job for about four months before he was sent home indefinitely because of the pandemic.
Now, he said last week, he’s grown accustomed to the arrangement because it allows him to get more sleep, wear more comfortable clothes, and have a more balanced schedule.
“Now that my job is allowing me to (have the option of remote work) I feel more comfortable in my workspace,” he said. “I still work with my team, but I perform my job better.”
The remote format has also given employers new opportunities.
According to Carr, the new format allowed Trueline to open its hiring to people nationwide and allowed the company to engage a more talented, diverse pool of applicants than if hiring was limited to Maine.
Nine of Trueline’s employees, he added, have moved out of Maine in the last year, some due to Maine’s rising housing costs, although they still work at the company remotely.
Carr said in the future he thinks the hybrid model of working some days at home and some in the office will be the most attractive and that employers should not force workers to come into the office if they do not have to.
Time, he said, is the “most valuable asset” anyone has, and all employees should make sure they are getting an appropriate return on investment for their time from their employer. What Carr called “the old-school model of (a boss) standing over (workers’) shoulders and watching them work” is on its way out, he said.
At payment processing company Wex, both of the company’s Portland buildings are open to employees, vendors, and visitors.
But Claire Clonan, vice president of global human resources operations and business transformation, said through a company spokesperson last week that employees are not required to return to the office through the end of 2021.
After returning to work, employees and their managers will determine the best way for them to work in the future, Clonan said, whether that is remote, in person, or hybrid.
At workers’ compensation insurance company MEMIC, Senior Vice President Tony Payne said leadership is still discussing with employees about the arrangement that will work best.
However, Payne said, the company would like to have a regular time set for workers to come into the office once or twice per week. He said MEMIC would like to be “intentional about what happens” when the company brings people together.
“If you want (employees) to be in the office, what’s going to happen?” Payne said. “Because the work that you do at your desk can be done at home, so why be in the office?”
Employee training, for instance, he said, is important to conduct in person. But conversations around returning to work should also consider how to accommodate employees who have adjusted their lives during the pandemic for essential elements like child care or their partners’ schedules.
The conversation about continuing to work remotely, Payne also noted, is a luxury, since many people were laid off during the pandemic or work in frontline positions that required them to work in person throughout the pandemic.
Since MEMIC provides companies with workers’ compensation insurance, Payne also said the pandemic and millions of people working from home posed new hazards for workplaces to take into consideration.
For instance, he said, ensuring at-home workstations allow proper ergonomics is important, as is ensuring workers stretch regularly and have proper lighting where they work at home.
From a mental health standpoint, Payne said, making sure you are not working 24/7 at home is also important.
But ultimately, he echoed Carr on the merit of remote work.
“The dynamic that we’re experiencing at MEMIC and is widely reported by most employers,” Payne said, “(is) work from home is an option that works.”