Years after the pandemic forced many Alaskans to work from home, these employers are sticking with it

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The pandemic has changed the way Alaskans work.

GCI, First National Bank Alaska, and many other Alaskan employers have policies in place allowing a large portion of their workforce to telecommute from home.

Companies say they learned early in the pandemic that employees valued working from home, after many were forced to telecommute to avoid spreading COVID-19.

Company officials say the provisions support workers without sacrificing quality, when properly implemented. And that gives them a hiring advantage in a tight job market, they say.

Employees say it makes them more engaged with their jobs and helps them juggle household chores as virus-related impacts continue to disrupt lives.

Gina Romero said she took a job at Yuit Communications more than a year ago after supervisors there agreed to let her work from home a few days a week.

The Anchorage marketing company is giving its 20 employees the option to work remotely for part of the week.

Romero said when her firefighter husband worked around the clock, the schedule allowed him to transport their teenage children to school and activities.

In return, she puts in the extra time, she said. She puts her computer on her lap in the school parking lot, waiting for her children. And she works all evening at the kitchen counter, dinner simmering on the stove.

“If my company comes to give me that flexibility, I’ll be the first to give it 100%,” she said. “I have that time to be there for my kids, so I take that time to be there for my job.”

Yuit, Yuit Comm, Yuit Communications, Remote Work

A “remote first” work policy

GCI, the state’s largest telecommunications company, has embraced remote work, unlike large national employers, like Apple, which try to bring workers back to the office.

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GCI has embraced a “remote workforce first” after learning in surveys that employees wanted to continue telecommuting after pandemic requirements eased, said Heather Handyside, director of communications at GCI. ‘company.

In other words, employees are generally required to telecommute unless their duties prevent it.

Today, around 1,400 employees are working from home, around 80% of the company’s workforce. They receive an allowance from GCI for equipment, supplies and internet.

About 400 other employees still do their work in person, such as field technicians or retail employees.

Chief executive Ron Duncan said six months into the pandemic, GCI realized worker productivity had not declined, even with the vast majority of its workforce working from home.

In fact, sales were significantly better than previous years as Alaskans suddenly needed high-speed internet, Duncan said.

Remote work offered an opportunity to transform the business, he said.

“(We realized) that this was going to improve productivity and also reduce costs, because the cost of supporting home offices is much lower than the cost of supporting the real estate footprint that we have,” did he declare. “And over time, that real estate footprint will shrink.”

GCI is letting some leases expire, Duncan said. Several floors of the Denali Towers corporate headquarters in Midtown Anchorage are largely empty due to politics. It is also modernizing meeting spaces to provide remote video conferencing and creating office spaces where remote employees can reserve a seat.

Under the policy, GCI can better compete for highly skilled workers in Alaska and nationally, Duncan said. It is also retaining longtime employees who were expected to leave the state, he said.

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Companies that “beat the drum” to get employees back to the office are swimming upstream against what most workers want, Duncan said. “So if I say, ‘Damn, you have to be in the office every day, that’s just one more reason for you to say, ‘Well, maybe this isn’t the job I want. ‘ “

The new approach has challenges, but they are surmountable, he said.

Occasional in-person meetings, including social gatherings, are key to keeping people connected, he said.

GCI, Megan Webb, remote work

Megan Webb, GCI’s director of corporate communications, is telecommuting from her home in South Anchorage.

Webb said he doesn’t really miss the day-to-day social interactions of the office, compared to the benefits of working from home. Several months pregnant, she recently continued to work as she traveled with her husband to his work conference in Nashville, Tennessee.

“The flexibility is really nice,” she said.

Employees say working from home frees up time for their jobs because there’s no commuting. It also saves money on gas and food.

Josh Edge, media relations specialist for GCI, said he was “remote-remote”. He recently moved from Alaska to North Carolina after his girlfriend found a job there. But her professional duties, such as writing newsletters, allow her to work anywhere.

He misses the social aspects of the office, but not the disruptions that broke his rhythm when he was writing, he said.

“I can enjoy those bursts of creative energy when the words come easy,” he said. “It’s huge in my particular job.”

Less time in the office

Most Alaskans have returned to their traditional places of work as concerns about the pandemic ease, said Nolan Klouda, director of the Center for Economic Development at the University of Alaska.

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Still, many workers appear to be working from home, he said. People are spending 24% less time in Anchorage workplaces than before the pandemic, which is similar to national averages, he said, citing Google tracking data.

“We don’t know if people are working entirely from home or spending less time in the office,” Klouda said. “But it does indicate some persistence in remote working. It seems to last longer than other pandemic measures. »

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Not everyone prefers telecommuting.

Mike Mason, chief information security officer for First National Bank Alaska, said he occasionally works remotely but enjoys being in the office. Even brief interactions with other employees spark good ideas.

“And I’m more focused on work when I’m physically at work,” he said.

Early in the pandemic, he worked with a team from First National, the largest Alaska-based bank, to create special cybersecurity measures for a workforce that suddenly needed to log into banking systems from their home rather than from central offices.

The security changes helped set the stage for First National’s remote work policy in place today, said Steve Patin, the bank’s chief human resources officer.

About 90 of the bank’s employees, or 15%, work a hybrid or fully remote schedule, Patin said.

The move opened up floor space in offices, allowing First National to expand for social distancing, Patin said. The bank has also expanded community work areas where remote banking employees can plug in if needed.

The system can improve productivity and create a “win-win-win” for employees, customers and the bank, he said.

ConocoPhillips, which employs about 960 people in Alaska, offers hybrid work for many employees on Wednesdays and Fridays, although office roles require others to be in person, spokeswoman Rebecca Boys said in an email. mail. The program allows “individual flexibility while retaining the benefits of in-person engagement,” she said.

Some regional Alaska Native corporations have said they allow remote work, such as CIRI, representing many Southcentral Alaska shareholders.

The company allows eligible employees to work remotely on Mondays and Fridays, with supervisor approval, said Ethan Tyler, CIRI’s senior director of general affairs.

Tyler lives in Girdwood and occasionally telecommutes on those days, saving him over an hour on the round trip to Anchorage. Inevitably, the dog barks when meeting company executives virtually, but things generally go well.

The option is valuable for recruiting talent, he said.

“We want to provide that flexibility because we want to make sure we’re getting the best employees possible,” he said.

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