November 26, 2021

Cortland employers settle in for the long haul

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Jessica Forbes, a project assistant for Seven Valleys Health Coalition, works Wednesday at the organization’s office in Cortland. Seven Valleys, like many employers, plans to continue having much of its staff work remotely through the fall — and the foreseeable future — as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Jackie Leaf, the executive director of Seven Valleys Health Coalition, says that over the past few months of the coronavirus pandemic, she has missed working with her eight other employees in person.

“You miss that immediate feedback and interaction,” she said Wednesday.

The coalition, like other businesses and organizations in Cortland, plans to continue to have its employees working partially remotely for the rest of the year as a safety precaution against COVID-19.

Since remote work began for businesses in the city, employers have worked on long-term plans for remote work, said Bob Haight, the president and CEO of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce.

He said that he has heard “stories with employees who have been more productive at home than the office,” but also of other priorities people have to deal with working at home like caring for children.

At the Chamber of Commerce, three of Haight’s staff have been working from home without many problems.

The key for businesses that have had either all or the majority of their employees working remotely over the last couple of months was preparing for working remotely by providing equipment employees may need to help productivity — such as computer monitors and laptop computers — and by creating plans that allow for more flexible schedules, he said.

Additionally, Haight said many businesses “have a system set up for a second wave” of the coronavirus, if one does come to Cortland.

Returning to work when employees feel comfortable has been largely left to each business to decide for itself, said Garry VanGorder, the executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp.

“Those that can have people work remotely are certainly doing so, and I think most who are going this route have so far been giving employees the option of continuing that or returning to work,” he said in an email.

Employees at Seven Valleys Health Coalition work remotely for the most of the week but alternate when they come into the office, Leaf said. Employees work two days in the office and three days at home to minimize contact with each other.

VanGorder did say that the shift of businesses going to remote work during the pandemic has taken away from lunch crowds that would normally go to downtown restaurants.

Haight though said that people working from home who may not have gone out to eat that much before may be doing that more now as a way to support local restaurants.

Thoma Development Consultants has also shared an alternating schedule for employees working from home and those working in the office, said Rich Cunningham, the president and senior consultant of Thoma Development.

Some staff work two days in the office and the rest at home while others work three days in the office and two days at home, based upon their work needs.

“We expect this current situation will be the new normal for the foreseeable future,” he said.

The work the organization does — including grant writing and zoning updates — does not require all of the staff to be in the office at once, so working remotely has not had a big effect on the organization.

And while the Thoma Development Consultants office occupies two floors of an old house and theoretically, all 11 staff members could be in there at once without close interaction, Cunningham said he wants to keep staff as separated as possible.

“I would much rather be cautious than pushing it and have a problem,” he said.

Leaf too said that remote working has been fine for the organization, which doesn’t plan on changing for the rest of the year.

Come winter, Leaf said she will assess whether to keep her employees working remotely going into 2021 or if changes need to be made.

“Until the COVID thing is under control, we’re going to stay like we are as it’s the safest option for my staff,” she said.