Pandemic has caused a changing face of the workweek

The workweek as it once existed likely has changed forever.

Four day work weeks. Zoom calls. Hybrid schedule. Full time remote. All have become standard operating procedure for many businesses and their employees.

Companies were forced to adjust — or be faced with the prospect of folding — after the covid-19 pandemic struck. And while companies have reopened their doors to in-person work, many workers have balked at going back to business as usual.

That has compelled companies to become more flexible and offer, at times, more amenities to retain and attract talent.

“Things are looking different,” said Vera Krekanova, chief research and strategy officer for the Allegheny Conference Community Development, a nonprofit dedicated to economic development and quality-of-life issues. “We have been looking at how businesses are navigating a new normal. More businesses are seeking out more permanent solutions. They want to know what the future will look like and how they will be able to plan for that future. The majority tell us they want to have some flexibility for their employees.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 6 in 10 US workers who say their jobs can mainly be done from home are working from home all or most of the time. Before the pandemic, just 23% of workers said they teleworked frequently, Pew found. Among those who have a workplace outside their home, 61% now say they are choosing not to physically go into the office.

Annie Davis works from her O’Hara home as a senior account executive for Salesforce, a cloud-based software company based in San Francisco.

A Point Breeze native, Davis had lived in Chicago and worked for Adobe — in the office — before transitioning to working from home in March 2020, when the pandemic forced nationwide shutdowns of businesses, schools and sporting events.

Last July, she moved back to Pittsburgh with her husband and now 14-month-old son, Malcolm. In October, she joined Salesforce.

Davis said the freedom to work from home gives her the ability to address work issues while still attending to home life. The drawback, of course, is sometimes feeling isolated and the sense that work is just a room away.

“I feel like a lot of times I put my son to bed and then I go back online,” she said. “It’s a double-edged sword because I can get to my desk in seconds.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop | Tribune-Review

Calvin McKinney of Springdale, who handles delivery operations for Lawrenceville-based Harvie, loads a truck with fresh groceries. He usually works a shorter day on Monday when there aren’t any deliveries.

Lucy Angell of Dormont enjoys the perks of a hybrid schedule as operations manager of Harvie, an online, full-service grocery store based in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. It launched in March 2020 — coincidentally at the same time as the pandemic took root here.

Although deliveries take place Tuesdays through Fridays, she said, employees have flexible hours on Mondays and can make up hours on weekends, if needed.

“Sometimes, a parent may have a child who isn’t feeling well or might have a day care issue because of covid,” Angell said. “We want them to be able to take care of their child. If they are at work, they will be worried about their child. You have to be flexible.”

Harvie founder Simon Huntley said it’s a competitive work environment, so he does what he can to take care of employees. One way is by offering floating holidays. If an employee doesn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter, the person can choose to work those days and select another day off as their paid holiday.

“We try to work around people’s schedules,” Huntley said. “We are proud of that. We try to do everything we can for employees because it’s a competitive work environment out there.”

Four day work week

In March, Joanna Doven implemented a 32-hour, four-day, work-from-home workweek at her public relations and marketing agency, Premo Consultants, to give her employees a more balanced lifestyle, she said. She and her team still meet weekly at Bakery Square.

“I give them a long leash,” said Doven, a single mom from Ohio Township. “They respect that, and if they do their work, I am good with that. There is a way to get the work done and still have a life. We hustle.”

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Lilly Kubit | Tribune-Review

Joanna Doven (center) shows visuals for an upcoming project to Marissa Luznar (left) and Stephanie McHale. Doven, owner of Pittsburgh-based Premo Consultants, implemented a 32-hour, four-day, work-from-home workweek. She meets with her team once a week in Bakery Square.

Doven said she has an all-female staff who are mothers. She doesn’t want them to miss their children’s life moments.

“I founded Premo nine years ago, to both contribute my expertise on behalf of innovative companies and have the flexibility to do the most important job in the world — raise children,” Doven said. “During the pandemic, my employees and I, all of whom are hardworking mothers, juggled clients while homeschooling during one of the most stressful times in modern history.”

Fashion designer Kiya Tomlin, whose company is based in Etna, decided in January to offer employees a 32-hour, four-day workweek to help alleviate stresses from the pandemic and for better quality of life, she said.

“You shouldn’t have to live to work,” said Tomlin, wife of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. “You should work to live.”

Smaller companies have more flexibility for the four-day workweek scenario, Krekanova said, because it’s easier to manage fewer people.

The Downtown Pittsburgh region is noticing the shift in where people are working. According to the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, in January 2020, there was an average of 70,000 people in Downtown Pittsburgh Monday through Friday.

As of April 2022, that number is 27,490. Watts said they’ve been working on other ways to bring more people into Downtown and that some buildings could eventually be converted into living spaces.

Of 20 primary Downtown buildings, they are at 22% capacity in April 2022 versus January 2020, said Chris Watts, vice president of district development for the PDP.

“Companies are not rushing people back into offices,” said Watts. “Most companies are having workers come back on a hybrid schedule. Companies are being flexible, and I don’t see the numbers getting back to January 2020 in the foreseeable future.”

Early in the pandemic, Highmark Health began to discuss the future of work situations. In October 2021, it launched “Work from Anywhere,” according to spokesperson Rachel Borowski. Some workers go into the office, others work from home, and still others prefer a hybrid schedule.

Highmark Health employees like this initiative, Borowski said.

“Everyone has a different work style,” she said. “It’s about communication and trust. These results speak for themselves. How we work is more important than where we work.”

Highmark Health has 14,000 employees who can do their jobs from anywhere and 37,000 in all, which includes face-to-face patient care roles, Borowski said.

Zachary Simmons, experience design consultant for Highmark Health, said the biggest thing is trust among him and his staff. Simmons, who lives in Downtown Pittsburgh, goes into the office at times.

“Going to the office gives me a mental break from the work-from-home space,” he said. “With less people in the office, I can get more work done. There are some times when we need to meet in person, and we agree on that day.”

Excela Health’s Laurie English, senior vice president and chief human resource officer, said it has become more important to think outside the box because of hiring challenges. Excela has added four 10-hour shifts, part-time and weekend options.

The system needs in-person workers because of direct patient care. There are 4,300 employees across Excela Health, which operates hospitals in Greensburg, Latrobe and Mt. Pleasant. It recently signed an intent-to-merge with Butler Health System.

English goes into the office so employees see that she’s physically present to provide support. Most of her team does a hybrid schedule. If they want to come into the office full time, they can — it’s voluntary.

“It is more challenging for us because of nursing and patient care,” English said. “We try to work with the employee. If life changes, we can offer them something that fits what they need. It’s like a chess game. You need a strategy because there are a lot of moving pieces.”


Time to RESET

According to data from Mental Health America, self-reported employee mental health issues in the US have increased from 5% to 18% since May 2020.

UPMC behavioral health partnered with PNC to outline steps organizations can take to help employees lower their stress, build resilience and avoid burnout.

A program titled “RESET” was introduced by Dr. Eva Szigethy, professor of psychiatry, pediatrics and medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

To help prevent the escalation of burnout, Szigethy recommends employees practice — and companies support — programs that allow people to “RESET” their stress response to safer levels.

relaxation: Unwinding and discharging from stress cycles through vacation, tension-release exercises, breathing, meditation and savoring the moment

Exercise: Interrupting stress cycles and reducing stress hormones through physical activity, minibreaks and social connectivity

sleep: Matching sleep cycles to light cycles, practicing mindfulness before bed and achieving a minimum of seven hours of sleep, which provides an anti-inflammatory and restorative chemical cleansing of the brain

Emotional re-regulation: Decompressing emotionally to protect against future stress and counterbalancing compartmentalization by smiling, laughing, good cathartic crying and maintaining a purposeful presence

Think Positive: Practicing positive psychology by keeping a gratitude journal, focusing on accomplishments and silver linings, and expressing intentional empathy, all ways of gaining resilience through crisis

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, jharrop@triblive.com or via Twitter

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