The pandemic has changed the way Alaskans work.
Many Alaska employers have implemented policies allowing much of their workforce to telecommute from home.
The companies say they learned during the pandemic’s early days that employees prized working from home, after many were forced to telework to avoid spreading COVID-19.
Company officials say the arrangements support workers without sacrificing quality, when implemented properly. And it gives them a hiring edge in a tight labor market, they say.
Employees say it makes them more committed to their job and helps them juggle domestic duties as virus-related impacts continue to disrupt life.
Gina Romero said she took a job with 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 gives its 20-person staff the opportunity to work remotely part of the week.
Romero said that when her firefighter husband is working 24-hour shifts, the schedule lets her shuttle their teenage kids to school and activities.
In return, she puts in extra time, she said. She props her computer in her lap in school parking lots, waiting for her kids. And she works into the evening at the kitchen counter, dinner simmering on the stove.
“If my company is going to come in and give me this flexibility, then I’m going to be the first to give them 100%,” she said. “I have that time to be there for my kids, so I make that time to be there for my job.”
Most Alaskans have returned to their traditional workplaces as pandemic concerns have eased, said Nolan Klouda, head of the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development.
Still, many workers appear to be working from home, he said. People are spending 24% less time in Anchorage workplaces than pre-pandemic, 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 points to some persistence in remote working. It seems to be lasting longer than other pandemic measures.”
Mike Mason, information security officer for First National Bank Alaska, said he occasionally works remotely but likes 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 at First National, the biggest Alaska-based bank, to create special cybersecurity measures for a workforce that suddenly needed to log in to banking systems from homes instead of central offices.
The security changes helped set the stage for First National’s remote working policy in place today, said Steve Patin, the bank’s human resources director.
About 90 of the bank’s employees, or 15%, work a hybrid or fully remote schedule, Patin said.
The move has opened up floor space in offices, allowing First National to spread out for social distancing, Patin said. The bank also expanded community working areas where remote bank employees can plug in if needed.
The system can enhance productivity and create a “win-win-win” for employees, customers and the bank, he said.
ConocoPhillips, employing about 960 in Alaska, offers hybrid working for many employees on Wednesdays and Fridays, though office roles require others to be in-person, spokeswoman Rebecca Boys said in an email. The program allows “individual flexibility while maintaining the advantages of in-person engagement,” she said.
Some Alaska Native regional corporations said they allow remote working, such as CIRI, representing many Southcentral Alaska shareholders.
The company lets eligible employees work remotely Mondays and Fridays, with supervisor approval, said Ethan Tyler, CIRI senior director of corporate affairs.
Tyler lives in Girdwood and occasionally telecommutes himself on those days, saving an hour-plus on the round-trip drive to Anchorage. Inevitably, the dog barks when he meets virtually with company executives, but things usually go smoothly.
The option is valuable for recruiting talent, he said.
“We want to provide that flexibility because we want to make sure we are getting the best employees we can get,” he said.