TAMPA — At lunchtime, the scent of garlic rises from Michelle Faedo’s Tampeño Cuisine restaurant on the ground floor of the 28-story Frederick B. Karl County Center building downtown — a smell drifting down Kennedy Boulevard and around the corner from the courthouse.
Before the pandemic, the line of downtown employees waiting for thick Cuban sandwiches and hot devilish crabs could stretch the length of the 109-seat restaurant and exit through the doors. But lately, not so much.
These days, at least half of the county center’s 820 employees are only required to be in the office two days a week and can work the rest from home, a holdover from the pandemic shutdown. At the courthouse, some workers work three days a week. Other flexible working hours have around 50% capacity downtown, at least anecdotally, a figure that, by a tally, is mirrored nationwide for office jobs.
“We usually close at 6 p.m.,” Kassandra Faedo said as she worked the restaurant’s register. “But now we close at 3.”
For employees in many fields – healthcare and retail stores, for example – working from home is not a practical alternative. But going remote remains an option of the moment for many office jobs as the world returns from emptied offices and downtowns turned into ghost towns by the pandemic.
“You get into a rhythm,” said Ashley Bauman, senior vice president of Mercury Public Affairs, who has been working remotely for a year now. From her Tampa apartment where her office overlooks the Hillsborough River and city skyline — and sometimes from her couch — she loves the freedom to define her own day and get more done without distraction.
“But you miss seeing your old friends,” she said. “You miss having a team around to just grab lunch or chat with.”
Current – or traditional – office flexibility varies across Tampa Bay.
“One thing we and many other workplaces have learned through COVID is that flexible working hours can be as effective as traditional office-only working hours, when applied strategically,” said Ken Welch, mayor of Saint Petersburg, where 12.5% of city staff typically telecommute two or three days a week.
But just across the bay, the City of Tampa employees are back in the office.
Some Pinellas County employees are working remotely up to three days a week, and in Hillsborough, those with eligible jobs are in the office at least two days a week or eight days a month. “We’re getting a great response to that balance,” said Ivey Martin, Hillsborough’s human resources manager.
In the United States, about half of employees in office jobs are working remotely, according to the president of the Virginia-based Society for Human Resource Management, up from 15% before the pandemic.
A Pinellas County spokesperson said their hybrid policy is working well and helping the county stay competitive in recruiting and retention. Others echo this: “Providing work flexibility, where appropriate, helps attract and retain high caliber employees,” said Cherie Jacobs, a spokeswoman for Tampa Electric, where 25% of workers work. are offered hybrid schedules and 10% are fully remote.
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While some have enthusiastically embraced the stay-at-home option, others still prefer the structure of dressing up and going to work.
“Some of our lawyers just don’t want to work anywhere but their office,” said Marie Tomassi, president and managing shareholder of Trenam Law, where employees in its Tampa and St. Petersburg offices can work hybrid schedules. flexible.
Mentoring can be a challenge, said Jennifer Compton, managing partner of the Sarasota office of the law firm Shumaker, which has about 130 attorneys working in the Tampa Bay area, some on hybrid schedules.
“We all recognized that the younger the associate, the longer they need to be in the office,” Compton said. “And you must have some of us old people here to mentor the young ones.”
There’s also in-person collaboration: “For me, it’s invaluable to be able to walk into my partner’s office next door and say, ‘OK, am I off the wall for this one?’ “, she said.
For Michael McKinley, a Shumaker lawyer who works entirely from home with his legal assistant and his wife, Zenia, the trade-offs are worth it.
“Lawyers tend to be collegial, they tend to talk about their cases and their issues and their sports teams during the work day. I never saw myself living without it,” he said. But the advantages at home – no long commutes, so more time and energy for work – “far outweigh the disadvantages”, he said.
Some worry about a “zoom cap” – an overlooked tendency for homeworkers to pose for assignments and promotions. There is also a risk of burnout following a working day with no defined beginning or end.
When working from home during the pandemic, Compton said she checked emails while still in her morning workout clothes and was online at 6:30 a.m. “I would say yes to Zoom calls at 7 p.m.,” she said.
“Everyone is struggling to figure out how to do it (remote and return-to-work options) and how to do it right,” she said. “It’s constantly inconsistent.”
Opinions on the future of where we will work vary.
“Most employers have started to accept that they’re going to have a hybrid work environment,” said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management. “That’s what we’ve learned: the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for all of our employees. Ultimately, about 30% of those whose jobs qualify are expected to work remotely at least some of the time, he said.
Mayor Welch said his city will continue to explore long-term work flexibility “to ensure both work-life balance and the efficient delivery of city services.”
Peter Cappelli, professor of management and director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote this in an email: “Employers always seem to want people back, employees are less enthusiastic about it. . Employers tend to win.