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Business & Economy

Ohio Workers And Companies Adjust To Working From Home

 Nationwide's headquarters in downtown Columbus.
Ryan Hitchcock
Nationwide's headquarters in downtown Columbus.

As summer approaches and more Ohioans are getting vaccinated, many businesses are thinking about what the new normal will look like post-pandemic. Certainly, not everyone can work from home.

A poll from Morning Consult last month showed two-thirds of employees who can want to return to the office as soon as possible. But that same poll showed 84% enjoyed working remotely.

So, what’s next for employees who have been doing it?

Jen Johns is the leader of a group that represents doctors in Northeast Ohio and she said her work from home experience during the past year has been good. And she doesn’t miss the commute. 

“I think it's nice that we're not having to drive in every day of the week. But I do think we miss the camaraderie of being together and being social with one another," Johns said.

Katrina Boylan has been working from home for Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.  

“I've been pleasantly surprised at how productive I am to the point that my manager actually doesn't necessarily want me back in the office," Boylan said.

Both Johns and Boylan think their new normal will involve splitting hours of work between home and the office.  

Work from home is not a new concept for Nationwide Insurance. The Columbus-based company has been allowing about 20% of its employees to work from home before the pandemic hit. But Vinita Clements, executive vice president and chief human resource officer, said the new normal will have half the workforce coming in each week.  

“When it's said and done, we'll probably look at 50% of our workforce that will remain permanent and work from home environment," Clements said.

And with so many people working from home, the company is able to be more efficient by not having to lease as much corporate space.  

Other companies are following suit. Recently, Chase, which has 20,000 workers in the Columbus area, announced it would vacate the majority of the space that surrounds Capitol Square. 

Almost one in five office spaces in central Ohio are vacant, the highest rate in a decade, according to commercial real estate company CBRE. A report from the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center predicts many workers won’t come back to their downtown offices. But that’s not the case in Cleveland, where office space leasing was up last year. 

Restaurants that depend on big companies have had to adapt to employees working from home. And so have smaller companies that provide specialty items for them – such as Bernadette Dodeci, who runs Berni’s Cheesecakes in Delaware.  

“I was very surprised when the businesses reached out to me because when people were allowed to do takeout, they wanted absolutely everything that was on the menu at their beck and call for takeout. People did not skimp at all in what they wanted to order,” Dodeci said.

Dedeci wonders how things will change once people return to work.

So does John Barker, the head of the Ohio Restaurant Association. He thinks businesses that cater to breakfast and lunch will probably see fewer customers. But the bigger worry for restaurants now, he said, restaurants themselves cannot find enough workers. 

“Ninety eight percent of them talk to us about staffing challenges they're having. So, it's become now the number one issue. It was for the longest time just trying to keep restaurants open. And then it was trying to get enough financial support to make up for the government shutdowns. And now it’s ‘I need staff,’” Barker said. 

But workers and groups that advocate for them have said the staffing shortages in the restaurant industry are due to workers wanting better pay and safer work environments. 

Working from home poses long-term questions about taxes. The conservative Buckeye Institute has filed suit over municipal income taxes paid by employees who live in different cities than their offices and were ordered by the state to work from home last year.

A Republican-sponsored bill would require employees pay income taxes where the work is actually performed. Cities say that would be devastating to their budgets, especially to safety forces. 

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.