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St. Pete 2.0: The changing dynamic of the workplace in the Covid-19 era [Survey results]

Jaymi Butler



st. pete 2.0

The St. Petersburg renaissance has been in full swing for more than a decade. We’ve excelled in many areas and struggled in others. In our series St. Pete 2.0, we’re partnering with the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership to explore what lies on the other side of our potential – what will it take to move to the “next level” as a city? Through this series, we’ll dig into specific topics with the hope that you, our thoughtful citizens, will share your insight, experience and wisdom.

Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact on the way we live and play, and especially on how we work. These days, working from home and spending hours in Zoom meetings has become the new normal, even for those of us who could never imagine not being in the office every day. As we wait for a vaccine, some companies are offering employees the opportunity to work from home indefinitely, while others are experimenting with alternating schedules to prevent having too many people in the office at once. How these trends will impact the growth and development of office space, which is one of the Downtown Partnership’s top priorities for 2021, remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure – our workforce is resilient and we’re finding creative ways to get the job done even in the midst of a global pandemic.

In this edition of St. Pete 2.0, we asked our readers and members of the Downtown Partnership to identify how Covid has changed the way they work. We received responses from both employees and employers at companies of all sizes from across the Tampa Bay area. Here’s what they had to say:

Where do you work most often these days?

  • At home: 63 percent
  • In the office: 16 percent
  • A combination of both: 21 percent

If you had the choice, where would you prefer to work the majority of the time?

  • A combination of both: 53 percent
  • At home: 32 percent
  • In the office: 16 percent

If you are still working from home, do you have plans to go back to an office and if so, when?

A number of people said they would not return to work until a vaccine is available and widely distributed, while others answered with a flat-out “no.” One respondent who has transitioned to full-time work from home replied “not unless my company starts to require mask wearing, which is unlikely.”

Some participants said they go into the office occasionally to meet with clients or handle administrative work, being careful to sanitize and limit capacity while they’re there. One person said the pandemic has influenced how her company hires.

“We’re seeking almost only remote new positions,” she wrote. 

Those who do intend to go back to the office said there are no concrete plans on when it will happen and that their employers are being flexible about allowing them to work from home.

How have your office needs changed since the pandemic began?

While some people commented that hand sanitizer and masks have become must-have office supplies, the majority of respondents mentioned technology as their biggest need in terms of being able to get their jobs done.

“We’ve had to pay for more technology – Zoom to do meetings, printers and scanners for employees and reimburse for employee cell phones since we transferred our office phone lines to our cell phones,” Denise Whitfield said. 

One commenter observed that because so many people at his office are now working from home, his company is looking to downsize its physical footprint.

“We are currently paying over $50,000 per month for space we are not using, and we are looking to reduce that unnecessary expense” he wrote, adding that his office will remain closed through at least mid 2021.

Another person wrote that she had to build an office in her bedroom so she’d be able to get her work done when she works from home.

“With my husband working at home for the first quarter and my kids working at home, I needed a separate space that was more private,” she said. “My husband built a desk for me, I got some plants to make it a little nicer. I’d like a better chair – I’m using one from the kitchen table.”

Some people had more philosophical thoughts about how their needs have changed. 

“I realized that I can be more efficient from home in many ways, but I miss the collaboration and camaraderie of being with my officemates,” one commenter wrote. 

Mike Fogel shared a similar sentiment.

“I don’t need the physical office environment now,” he said. “Almost everything can be done remotely.”

Lenora Wells, who has to go into work occasionally to handle administrative tasks, wrote that her office building has become something of a ghost town.

“It’s sad and depressing when I’m in the office because it’s very empty and quiet,” she said. “The entire office building is more vacant, and another tenant moved out yesterday.”

If you are an employer, have you seen increased expectations from employees for flexibility in workplace needs or office hours?

While most respondents shared they were not in supervisory roles, those who did agreed that there are more expectations of flexibility due to the ever-changing nature of life during a global pandemic.

“Yes, we are more liberal with needed time off and expect the employee to be available after hours if needed,” one employer wrote.

Whitfield said that she has always encouraged her employees to maintain a work-life balance, something that is even more critical now that the line between work and home has been blurred for many people. 

“I remind my staff to step away from the computer and phone at night,” she wrote. “I am mindful that my employees need down time. As we did when we worked in the office, we were mindful of our ending time. I instill that even though we are remote working, we must have an end time to our workday so as not to interrupt our personal space and time.”

If you are working in an office, how is your company managing social distancing and mask requirements?

Most respondents said their companies are doing a good job following CDC guidelines in terms of social distancing and mask wearing. 

“We wear masks in public spaces,” one person wrote. “We use the kitchen but do not eat meals there. We ask employees to social distance and be considerate of others. Wear makes in the elevator, bathroom. Wash hands frequently and wipe down copiers, kitchen, etc. We ask employees to not go to other departments if at all possible.”

Another commenter who works at USF’s St. Petersburg campus said the school has been vigilant in taking measures to help limit the spread of the virus. 

“Masks are required. Only current USF people are allowed in and you have to card swipe to gain entry,” she wrote. “There are lots of plastic barriers at service desks. We’re rotating people in, so it’s vastly reduced numbers. USF has done a good job. I’m glad that we’re open. We don’t have many students coming in, but those that do really need to use our services so it’s a good balance of limited numbers but still meeting student and faculty needs.”

A few commenters said that masks are required during in-office meetings but aren’t mandatory when people are in their own workspaces or when they can stay six feet apart from others.

Some people shared that their colleagues aren’t always good about following the rules. 

“We have a mask and social distancing rule but only half of the staff follow,” one commenter wrote. “The people who don’t believe in masks only wear them when forced.”

Others shared similar thoughts about their companies.

“They pay lip service to social distancing but they don’t take it seriously,” one respondent wrote.

Said another: “They’re recommending masks, but it’s everyone’s choice to comply, which is why I’m not going back to the office.”

Would you consider working in a co-working or shared space environment?

The results here were fairly evenly split, with slightly more people saying they wouldn’t consider it – or at least not right now. 

“Maybe after the pandemic,” one person wrote. 

Another said it was a hard no, Covid or no Covid.

“Absolutely not, even before the pandemic,” the commenter wrote. “Doubly so now.”

On the other end of the spectrum, another person was enthusiastic about the concept. 

“Absolutely,” the respondent said. “Co-working is the wave of the future.”

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