Working from home: The new normal? What major Utah businesses are saying

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In this photo provided by Brett Seidl, Jonathon Seidl sits in his home office in Dallas on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Brett Seidl via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – You love it or you hate it. Working from home has become the norm for thousands of Utahns the past few months due to the coronavirus outbreak. While some have disliked working from home because of the distractions and the lack of social interaction, some have loved the change of scenery and a chance to be around their family members more. But what do employers think of it all? Is working from home going to become the new normal even when the pandemic settles down?

ABC4 talked with several large Utah based companies that had to transition dozens and even hundreds of employees to remote work once the coronavirus hit. We got doTERRA, Nicholas and Company, Young Living, and Holland & Hart’s take on how workplaces will be different in the future because of realizations had during the pandemic.

The main finding of working from home? Companies are loving the productivity and positive feedback from their employees so much that working from home just might become the new normal.

Working from Home Productivity

“To run a $2 billion business is so complex and then to run a multi-national corporation from home takes a lot of effort and an amazing attitude and our people did it,” said Jared Turner, President and Chief Operating Officer at Young Living Essential Oils. “They are more productive than ever, our IT department has seen a 25 percent increase in productivity and what you see is when you are basing it off of results and not just showing up for the optics of being seen by your boss.”

Young Living was one of the first companies in Utah to announce that its employees would remain working remotely for the rest of 2020. Turner says this decision was based not only on the health concerns surrounding the coronavirus, but the decision stemmed from the productivity and happiness he has seen in his employees.

“We have seen so much success and happiness and productivity that we are going to extend our work from home for seven and a half more months,” said Turner of the announcement to keep employees at home for the rest of the year. “And I got tear-filled messages from our staff like I never have before.”

Nicholas and Company, a food distribution group based in Salt Lake City, is another company leaning towards a more home-based approach to work in the future.

“My gut tells me that a very good portion of people are going to elect to continue to work from home,” said George Adondakis, Division President of Nicholas and Company. “And we don’t know yet what we are missing with that yet…I think the face-to-face interaction will be one thing…but, we have instituted a few calls where we are requiring people to show their videos so we can read body language and are able to see people’s faces.”

Coinciding with other companies, Adondakis says that the decision to possibly let employees continue working from home stems not only from coronavirus health concerns but is also recruiting based and efficiency based among other things while health is just the genesis of it all.

“I am seeing this as potentially advantageous as a recruiting tool,” says Adondakis. “To give people that flexibility and to increase productivity all while working from home.”

Some may think that working from home is distracting but Adondakis says that he believes efficiency has improved at Nicholas and Company because people are getting up and logging on to their computers and the commute time isn’t a factor. This is providing more flexibility in people’s schedules to allow them to work when they are going to be most effective.

If working from home does become a more commonplace thing for office-style jobs, presidents of companies such as Turner and Adondakis realize that they will have to address the need to arrange comfortable home-office arrangements and setting their employees up with wifi among other things.

When Young Living had to have employees start working from home due to the pandemic, they gave employees a $500 credit to get whatever office supplies they may have needed for working from home such as a new desk or office chair. Nicholas and Company says that if/when working from home becomes a more permanent type of an arrangement, that benefits such as a wifi stipend, home computer and office space supplies will be looked into further.

Returning to Normalcy at the Office

Meanwhile, other companies such as doTERRA and Holland & Hart haven’t placed a timeline on if/when they will be returning to work.

“At the moment, it is invitation only to come back to work at the building,” said Kirk Jowers, Executive Vice President of doTERRA. “We are not putting a timeline on that right now, we only want people to come back to work if they feel comfortable.”

doTERRA realizes that the coronavirus has changed a lot of things for a lot of people and has even created a committee at doTERRA that is dedicated to considering the next steps post coronavirus by evaluating how the company can add a flexible working environment. While the company is all for employees working from home right now, in the long-run working from home will be “no, ultimately.”

“We do believe that it is important that we allow the opportunity to come back to normalcy and have the option to come here where they feel like they can be more effective and have some of the social interactions that they have been missing,” said Jowers.

Jowers goes on to say that through several surveys with their employees, they have found that a majority would prefer a more flexible schedule although most people would still like to come into the office at some point. There were also some employees that were adamant about coming back to the office as soon as possible.

“Everyone comes from different places and some of the young people are in apartments and it is difficult for them to do their jobs when they have four other people on top of them. As you can imagine, with 3,000 employees you are getting some where their family life is difficult, maybe even slightly dangerous. Mental health issues, loneliness…our health clinic is keeping track of that and reporting back on a general basis,” Jowers said.

While a law firm has always operated differently than other types of workplaces, Jim Barnett of Holland & Hart said, “I say it’s a mixed bag on whether or not people want to get back into the office, whether or not they feel more productive at home or in the office and it probably just depends on their personal circumstances.”

While Holland & Hart has been adjusting to the “massive change” of working from home, what does the future of Holland & Hart employees working from home look like?

“I don’t think we have figured out the answer to that question yet,” said Barnett of Holland & Hart. “I am sure that is something we will figure out in the future with a case-by-case basis. Some job functions can work remotely better than others but, we are all finding out more that working from home is more possible than we did before (the pandemic).”

Staying Connected

While working from home seems like a great idea to many, there is the worry that social interaction, team connectivity and genuineness will take a back seat as people continue to work remotely. The four companies ABC4 talked to all have had plans to make sure that none of that is lost.

Young Living has organized weekly happy hours to connect people with company leaders. It is designed to be a casual time just to get together, laugh, and to have fun. The company also has virtual town hall meetings. Ironically, after conducting surveys among their employees, Young Living employees have ‘felt more connected than ever through Zoom meetings and to corporate leaders through all their touching bases with each other.”

Meanwhile, Holland & Hart has organized virtual book clubs, virtual water-cooler get-togethers, a Facebook group, and even a virtual band, all in efforts to keep their employees connected and sane while working from home.

Environmental Benefits and Schedule Flexibility Benefits

In talking to the companies, it was also found that companies are choosing to allow their employees to continue working from home not just because of coronavirus safety and productivity, but for environmental benefits and flexibility reasons in work schedules as well.

“One thing we have found in our survey is work/life balance has improved,” said Turner of Young Living. “Our people are happier. The carbon footprint has been minimized. Traffic congestion has been minimized. We saw that by continuing to work from home we saved about 20,000 lbs of carbon emissions a day from our staff. So in lots of ways, it was to make our people happier and because of the coronavirus, safer.”

Turner, who once practiced law and was “brought up in the ‘you got to show up and got to have that in-person collaboration every day’ in an office” type of mindset, says not only does he think working from home will be the new normal, but he thinks it must become the new normal, especially for Utahns.

“We can’t keep building new lanes on highways. Are we going to get up to 20 lanes on I-15? I mean this state is booming in population,” said the innovative Young Living President. “And everyone has a home for the most part so why not promote this? Let’s get cars off the road and limit air pollution, lets have people connect with their families, to maybe stop building so many commercial buildings. I think this is the future. I think remote work is more supportive of how human beings actually are and how they connect with their community.”

Turner says he wants his thousands of employees to enjoy their life, he wants them to live out the work/life balance they have always dreamed of; and for Turner and his employees, remotely working during the pandemic is what has opened his eyes to his company’s “new normal.”

“I was totally against working from home…I ate my words,” said Turner. “I am now a firm believer in remote work and I will never go back. After seeing the results in productivity and employee happiness and employee connection, in how we are minimizing our impact on the earth…this is the way of the future for every company!”

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