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In North Dakota and the nation, remote work likely to continue as employers 'continue to evolve'

"Employers are at risk of losing talent if they do not allow remote work," Gallup study suggests.

Cassie Van Dell photo .jpeg
Cassie Van Dell, a digital strategist at Altru Health System, works remotely from her home office. In the region and across the nation, many employees worked from home during the pandemic to slow the spread of coronavirus. Now that the worst of the pandemic has subsided, some companies are keeping remote work opportunities in place. Contributed / Altru Health System
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GRAND FORKS -- Altru Health System may never again require all of its employees to come into the office five days a week.

The Grand Forks-based health care company has expanded hybrid work schedules to departments across the company. Jennifer Berg, director of Total Rewards at Altru, said now that employees know they can be just as productive from home, companies are adjusting.

“People were dealing with so much,” Berg said of work schedules during the height of the pandemic. “Some had kids at home, so it was a way that they were able to work while still taking care of their home needs.”

In the past, Altru exclusively employed people who lived nearby, particularly in North Dakota and Minnesota. Now, it remotely employs about 250 workers in 11 states who work in various departments, such as I.T., human resources and finance.

Berg said the flexibility of hybrid work weeks has aided hiring efforts during a time when qualified applicants are hard to come by. It "really opens up the labor market," she said.

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“We know now that we can do it with virtual work and remote work, and we have processes in place that would support that," Berg said. "So we’re able to hire certain positions where it makes sense from other states or anywhere.”

It's a trend emerging nationwide. A recent study by Gallup – and a subsequent article published on Gallup's website – declares "Remote work persisting and trending permanent."

A September Gallup poll showed that 45% of full-time U.S. employees worked from home either all or part of the time. The data was unchanged from earlier months.

Revealed in the Gallup study:

  • Approximately nine out of 10 U.S. workers who are at least partially remote hope they can continue to work some hours from home after the pandemic subsides.
  • "Hybrid work is most preferred," the study declares. Overall, about half of those who work remotely at least some of the time say they would ideally like to split their time between working at home and in the office.
  • "Hybrid looks like the way of the remote future." Three-quarters of remote workers report that they likely will be allowed to work remotely at least some in the future.
  • And tellingly, "Employers are at risk of losing talent if they do not allow remote work," according to the study. "Three in 10 employees working remotely say they are extremely likely to seek another job if their company eliminates remote work."

Grand Forks businesses faced hiring issues before the pandemic began, but the pandemic has left a lasting effect on how businesses attract new employees.
When employees at many businesses were sent home during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, working from home – or hybrid work weeks – became an accepted practice for many employers. And as a labor shortage continues in the region, some companies are choosing to stick with various perks that before didn't exist, including work-from-home opportunities, signing bonuses and the like.

In the Grand Forks area, some businesses have been using sign-on bonuses as an attention-grabbing recruiting tool. Marvin, a regional door and window manufacturer, was offering $2,500 to $5,000 as sign-on bonuses for production associates. Altru Health System was offering a $5,000 sign-on bonus for an athletic trainer, as well as relocation expenses; it's the same amount it was offering for a speech language pathologist. Valley Senior Living earlier this year was offering a $10,000 sign-on bonus for certain technical positions.

However, for the businesses that can do it, allowing employees freedom to work from home costs less than signing bonuses.

Dustin Hillebrand, Grand Forks workforce center manager at North Dakota Job Service, said sign-on bonuses have become popular with many companies, but he doubts Grand Forks businesses are universally on board with it.

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After recent discussions with local businesses, "the majority that I talked to weren’t doing sign-on bonuses, but a few of them were thinking about it.”

“There are some companies that are and have had success with (bonuses),” Hillebrand said. “But really, I think it’s going to go back to even more what the balance is that they’re looking for.”

Part of that balance likely will be finding the right ratio of in-person and remote work.

“For instance, some companies are looking at going to different types of shifts for folks,” Hillebrand said. “You have folks who are working from home for some companies, you have some companies that are doing hybrid (schedules), where it’s three days in the office and two days at home, or some variation of that. Some companies are doing a four-day work week with 10-hour days.”

Hillebrand said businesses in Grand Forks could start by simply letting employees manage their own hybrid schedules.

“It might be giving employees the opportunity to change their hours during the day,” he said. “For instance, with COVID, it might mean you’ve got parents who are possibly home with students right now and letting them work later in the day while their student is going to school.”

At Altru, Berg said it's important to listen to employees going forward and continue to make adjustments to their needs.

“I think the biggest thing is that we’re going to need to continue to evolve,” Berg said. “I guess I don’t think that we’re going to see work just return to the way that it had been.

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"But I think that’s a good thing, too.”

Related Topics: WORKPLACEALTRU
Jacob Holley joined the Grand Forks Herald as its business reporter in June 2021.

Holley's beat at the Grand Forks Herald is broad and includes a variety of topics, including small business, national trends and more.

Readers can reach Holley at jholley@gfherald.com.Follow him on Twitter @JakeHolleyMedia.
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