AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Coronavirus: Thousands of Miami Valley employees work from home

To stick together in a time of uncertainty, some businesses are having employees stay apart, working remotely from home during the coronavirus situation.

“Business is different, but it’s business as usual,” said Jeff Hoagland, president and chief executive of the Dayton Development Coalition.

“One thing I’ve noticed is that many of the businesses I’m in contact with via newsletters, event lists, etc., seem to be moving quickly to make sure they can keep operating and making sure the electronic infrastructure is there for their employees to work remotely and for them to conduct meetings via phone or video conference,” said Shannon Joyce Neal, vice president of strategic communications for the coalition. “Their goal is not shutting down, but working through the disruption.”

Chris Kershner, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce executive vice president, said chamber leaders were talking Friday about doing a survey of local businesses who are having employees work remotely, but the chamber did not yet have hard data on the situation.

MORE: Coronavirus: Wright-Patterson leaders weigh recommendations and guidance

A spokesman for Wright-Patterson did not have an estimate on how many base employees were telecommuting.

“That information is at the supervisory level for each organization on base and is not reported higher,” base spokesman Bryan Ripple said in an email. “Each supervisor evaluates the potential impact on their organization’s mission as they make telework agreement decisions.”

For now, no one has a formal count on how many Dayton-area workers are working remotely.

“I would say thousands of people are working from home,” Hoagland said Friday.

Today’s watchword seems to be adaptability. One example: The JobsOhio board meeting will be live-streamed Tuesday instead of being held at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Hoagland noted.

Doing business these days may sometimes be a matter of facetime, Skype — or simply picking up the phone.

“Everything is right in our hands that allows to continue to do our daily operations,” Hoagland said. “Now we have to change and adapt a little bit.”

At Stratacache, all key employees have remote access, said Chris Riegel, founder and chief executive of the global digital signage and customer technology company. Many businesses are taking this approach, with fallback plans to work from home when needed.

But that’s easier for a technology or information services company than, say, a restaurant, pub or sports venue, Riegel noted.

At CareSource, CEO Erhardt Preitauer said the company tested its telecommuting technology Friday. 

“CareSource conducted a robust test of our systems and the large majority of employees worked from home with no disruption,” Preitauer said in a statement from the company. “In addition, CareSource has implemented a plan to allow maximum flexibility and support for employees. This includes flexible hours and the unprecedented step of providing reimbursement for short term childcare needs as a result of school closures and, where needed, additional paid time off.”

Joanie Krein, vice president and market manager for Manpower of Dayton Inc., said she has heard from some companies who have asked employees to work remotely.

“Companies that already allowed people to choose to work from home occasionally are ahead of the game on this situation,” Krein said. “Those employees typically have company assigned laptops and cell phones.”

Call centers implemented work-from-home technology over the last few years, so the transition will be easier for those organizations, Krein said.

Manpower is accommodating staff as needed, she added. Travel has been limited and the business is minimizing foot traffic in branches as a precaution.

“I do believe it is a good sign that employers are figuring out how to make this work,” Krein said. “In this talent shortage, employers are focusing on retention of staff. They understand that they need to be flexible with their employees under these circumstances and alleviate anxiety any way they can.”

The coalition has reached out to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and is staying in touch with companies who continue to eye possible projects in Ohio, Hoagland said.

A University of Dayton spokesman said Friday there’s no estimate on the number of university employees who are working remotely since classes were cancelled earlier this week.

The week of March 16 to 20 will be a transitional week, in which designated employees will prepare for increased telecommuting and remote work, the university said. “By Monday, all employees whose work is able to be performed remotely will be working remotely,” the university said.

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