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Corridor businesses see more hybrid schedules
Some businesses in the Corridor are opting to remain partially remote to better fit their workers’ wants and needs.
ACT, which is headquartered in Iowa City and employs 540 people within the state, currently has 91% of its entire nationwide workforce is either hybrid or fully remote, Senior Director of Talent Strategy at ACT Mark Larson said in an email.
“Eighty-five percent of Iowa-based ACT team members currently work remotely in either a full-time or hybrid capacity, similar to 2022,” he said. “ACT remains committed to supporting flexible work arrangements, including remote work, which can offer team members the ability to balance work and personal life while ensuring that business needs are still met.”https://corridorbusiness.com/cbj-newsmakers-return-to-the-office/
Another company approving predominately hybrid work is Transamerica, which employs approximately 1,600 people in Cedar Rapids.
“About 95% of these employees in the Cedar Rapids area work remotely, or in a hybrid position that is partly in-office and partly remote,” Transamerica Chief People and Places Officer Holly Waters said. “... Transamerica takes a flexible approach to our employees working in-office or remotely, or in a hybrid in-office/remote position. We regard the office as a ‘place of purpose’ and take into account which responsibilities benefit most from in-office collaboration or are conducive to office presence. Our number of remote opportunities has grown since early 2020.”
The company continues to own its office building at 6300 and 6400 C St. SW, Ms. Waters said, and the company is simultaneously investing in technologies to support remote and virtual onboarding and development opportunities for employees who do not want to return to working in person.
Transamerica is not alone in its investment in teleworking options. TrueNorth, which employs 240 people in Cedar Rapids, asked its teams to return to some in-person work back in September 2022.
TrueNorth’s Chief Operations Officer Matt Rathje said in a statement that all TrueNorth regional locations were back in the office on a three days per week hybrid schedule by Sept. 1, though some returned before the company deadline.
The company is also allowing teams to determine what’s best for their workers, as some locations with fewer employees ask for colleagues to be in the office on fixed days and others see a five-day in person work week.
“This is the new normal for TrueNorth colleagues,” Mr. Rathje said.
Regarding using office space, he said TrueNorth continues to acquire agencies in the Midwest, but does not currently have plans to acquire additional real estate holdings.
Linn County, however, is taking a different approach to its options for workers. Of the 750 Iowans employed by Linn County, none are fully remote, Human Resources Analyst for the county Andrea Ewers said in an email statement.
“Employees are not allowed to telework without an approved Telework Agreement on file, and about 26% of our employees have such an agreement on file,” she said. “Many of those agreements are on file only for the purpose of intermittent telework, (but) they are not teleworking on a regular basis. The maximum number of days per week any of them could telework is three days per week.”
She said the majority of workers who have the option to work remotely do not, only using their telework days once in a while.
The policy for telework within the county has changed over time, the option was being used more frequently by employees during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once vaccines became widely available, Ms. Ewers said the policy was dialed back.
“We try to be mindful that the majority of positions cannot possibly telework, (including) deputies, public health nurses, which is part of the reason for the limitations,” she said. We are trying to be as flexible as we can while still providing value and accountability to the taxpayers who pay our wages.”
Eastern Iowa commercial real estate remains strong marketOne concern about workers wanting to remain hybrid is that of commercial real estate. Forbes reported in March 2023 that the pandemic’s aftershock is continuing to cause a drop in usage of commercial spaces. Research shows around 250 million square feet of office space were leased per year by companies, which fell to 100 million in early 2022.
Commercial realtor Tiffany Earl Williams works in both the Des Moines area and in eastern Iowa and she said this year is bringing trends of companies reabsorbing their previously vacant locations.
“Some spaces that were vacated due to COVID are still under a lease obligation of different companies,” she said. “They’ll be reassessing as those leases roll to see what their actual footprint need is and if they want to resign.”
The trends Ms. Williams is seeing are toward larger commercial footprints.
She said Iowa and the Midwest has benefited from people wanting shorter commute times in recent years, allowing more companies to set locations here.
Mark Lynch, commercial real estate agent for Skogman Realty, said Iowa City is a unique market with the University of Iowa being a reliable economic driver.
“We have something unique in the University of Iowa because it’s such a cash cow,” he said. “It’s putting so much money into the market every single year, good or bad. It’s a strong benefit to Johnson County.”
Overall, Mr. Lynch said the market is looking strong because of the spaces available.
“We are faring a lot better than larger markets, like Chicago or Minneapolis or New York, because we’ve never had a huge amount of supply,” he said. “”We aren’t feeling that same drop in demand because of the supply and demand we have still meeting one another. Our office supply looks great right now."
Mr. Lynch said he was initially concerned high interest rates would slow down the market, but that has seemingly dropped off. He said activity has been stable so far this year and clients are continuing to invest in hybrid models, focusing on bringing workers back to the office with some flexibility.
Coworking spaces project remain profitable
While some companies decide to offer more hybrid opportunities, coworking spaces — where workers from different companies can share office spaces — are continuing to see clientele in eastern Iowa.
Stephanie Verdinez, director of First Impressions for Iowa City Area Development, helps oversee MERGE and CoWork @ 808. The two coworking spaces are located at 136 S. Dubuque St. in Iowa City and 808 Fifth St. Suite 5 in Coralville respectively.
She said MERGE has become a staple in the Iowa city community, offering spaces to whomever needs them.
“We now have a designated office space downstairs with a more general space upstairs,” she said. “There are also classrooms for people to use for educational purposes. With these offices and our clientele, it’s a mix of people who work from home and some entrepreneurs that have their own startups or just want the flexibility of leaving their home.”
After the pandemic, Ms. Verdinez said there have been more travelers who are crossing state lines and need a place to work, which offers a new client base. Coworking spaces, she said, are unique because they introduce people who would not otherwise meet.
“It’s crazy how many relationships we see spring out of having a membership with us,” she said. “I’ve seen someone get a whole job from connecting with another member so that’s great to see. People come here for that opportunity, as well as the flexibility of not only working from home.”
John Foster, the community manager of Vault Coworking in Cedar Rapids, said COVID-19 decreased membership significantly in 2020.
From the clients who joined Vault after COVID-19, Mr. Foster said their companies have yet to ask them to return to the office. Regardless of the changing memberships and clientele, he said the Cedar Rapids community continues to benefit from Vault and what the space offers.
“There is a threshold in the community for these spaces, though some have failed in the past few years,” he said. “We’re sitting pretty good because of what we offer to entrepreneurs and other businesses … One of the great things about coworking is you really build a great community.”