Why some businesses may stick with telecommuting

Published: Jul. 3, 2020 at 6:44 PM EDT
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For months, office spaces across the state have been empty. Even though the stay-at-home order has been lifted and more people can return to their offices, many are not. Our Christina Guessferd learned why this new world of telecommuting could continue indefinitely.

A lack of a commute, more time with family and increased productivity-- all positive outcomes of work-from-home protocols that have many workers hoping they can stay put.

I talked to an employer who plans to embrace telecommuting even after it's safe to return to the office.

"We sent all 450 employees home within a two-week period," said Sarah Teachout of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont.

Teachout says Blue Cross Blue Shield employees were able to make that transition so quickly because the business already had a remote work policy in place before the pandemic, under which workers could stay home two days a week. So, most also already had the proper equipment, software and broadband connection.

"We just had to really ramp it up," Teachout said.

And she says the switch has been a complete success.

"We've been amazed at how well work-from-home is for all 450 of us. That's a lot of people to send home and to keep organized and working together," Teachout said.

Now that company leaders know it's possible, they're exploring ways to make the changes permanent, as many employees express interest in telecommuting more frequently or forever.

The Vermont-based business isn't alone.

"We're finding that a lot of employers are using that experience to modify the return-to-work order themselves," said Betsy Bishop, the president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

Bishop says many local companies are considering bringing back workers in shifts so there's a limited number of people in the building at a time.

On the other hand, she says there are plenty of big employers nationwide who are thinking about shutting down office spaces altogether, like Twitter.

She says eliminating the need to live where you work offers Vermont endless opportunities to boost its economy.

"Vermont can hold out itself as a work-from-home capital of the universe," Bishop said. "If you could work from anywhere and your job was in some other state, you would choose Vermont."

Still, Bishop says local businesses will have to balance maintaining corporate culture and doing what's best for the company.

"There's a little bit of a sense of loss and missing our co-workers," Teachout said.

Teachout says a bunch of employees want to come back to the building, regardless. She anticipates the business will always need office space but maybe not as much of it. In the future, the company could downsize and utilize the vacant spots in a different way.