Many employees still working at home, according to Billings Chamber of Commerce survey

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Posted at 5:08 PM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 19:08:54-05

BILLINGS — Of 24 organizations surveyed that took the Billings Chamber of Commerce's work from home pledge, most are currently operating on a hybrid model with employees working either at home or at the office, according to a survey published by the chamber at the start of February.

A total of 45 Billings organizations took the pledge in the Fall of 2020, when the number of COVID-19 cases in Yellowstone County was at its peak. The pledge encouraged businesses to have their employees work from home as much as possible to help reduce the spread of the virus in the workplace.

Most of the organizations surveyed anticipate to return to the office between June and September 2021, dependent on the wide-spread availability of vaccine. Of the organizations surveyed, 21 were operating on a hybrid model, two were operating 100 percent remotely, and one retail business had staff all working "at the office".

On Tuesday, members of the Billings Chamber of Commerce met virtually to discuss some successes and shortfalls with working from home.

A challenge for a company like PayneWest Insurance, with 750 employees spread across 26 offices in four states, has been navigating each state's COVID-19 regulations. Jeremy Vannatta, director of marketing for PayneWest said the company has erred on the side of caution and only has 25 percent of staff working in the office.

Another unique challenge the insurance company has experienced is bigger companies recruiting their employees by offering big city benefits while allowing employees to work from home in Montana.

“Some of our colleagues are being poached by other insurance agencies outside of our footprint in larger cities that now say ‘hey, now that you’re working remotely, why not work for a Denver firm and we’ll pay you Denver wages.’ It’s interesting, now we’re having to play this balance," Vannatta said.

Another crux for business leaders at this point in the pandemic is knowing when exactly it is safe to bring employees back without fear of disruption from a positive COVID-19 case. Vannatta said PayneWest had previously tried allowing 50 percent capacity in the office, but positive COVID-19 cases meant management had to send everyone home again and sanitize the office.

"We would try to open up a few offices up that their cities were showing good numbers, then we would try to open those offices a little more and go to 50 percent and we would either see a COVID positive case or presumptive positive, then we'd have to close the office again, clean it, send everyone back home. And it was so disruptive to the colleagues that we said we're just keeping everyone at 25 percent," Vannatta said.

To read the full survey results prepared by the Billings Chamber of Commerce, click here.

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