Future of Work: ‘I Would Like to Have the Option to Return to Downtown Portland’

The second in our series of interviews with business leaders on the future of work is with Greg Ness, CEO of The Standard.

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OB spoke to executives at firms in a variety of sectors to see how the pandemic has transformed their businesses and how they see the future of the workplace evolving in a post-pandemic world.

In the second part of our series of interviews with business leaders, Greg Ness, CEO of The Standard, considers how to welcome back thousands of workers to the office.

For large companies that traditionally required staff to work in the office full-time, the pandemic-induced shift to remote working has arguably been the most transformative. The Standard epitomizes traditional office working with its 27-story building at 900 Southwest Fifth Avenue dominating the downtown Portland skyline.

Almost overnight in mid-March, Greg Ness, CEO of the financial services firm, required his more than 3,000 employees to start working from home. Few have been back to the office since.

Like other executives, Ness learned the need to be intentional about communicating with remote employees. Regular virtual team meetings are the norm, and supervisors regularly check in with employees individually. Every 10 days or so, the CEO holds a video call for all employees to listen to. “I sit down in my office at home, turn on my camera and talk about what is on my mind,” says Ness. He has had positive feedback from employees, he says, who report feeling more connected to the company than in normal times.

Ness told employees that they do not need to come back into the office until July 1, 2021. The long timeframe is designed for parents of school-age children who may find they have to stay at home until then because of school closures. “It is a huge challenge for those people who are trying to teach their children spelling and math and trying to work at the same time.”

The company gave employees $400 to spend on setting up a home office. It also offers a new child care subsidy to help parents pay for someone to take care of their children while they work. Another new benefit is “mental health days” to help employees cope with the stresses of the pandemic.

The company has formed a return-to-work group that is fine-tuning the details of bringing staff back to the office. But it is clear the company’s approach to office life will not be the same, says Ness. “We will not go back to March 1, 2020, where we had virtually all employees in our office. I suspect we will endorse a hybrid program.”

Despite having a large amount of office space, Ness is not planning to sell the buildings or sublease space. The company just renovated the lobby of its Fifth Avenue building to entice new tenants, a plan that is still in place. “I would like to have the option to return to downtown Portland. Obviously, there have been disruptions in downtown, and we need to let those settle,” says Ness.

He is aware that not all his employees can work well at home and wants a place to accommodate those staff members. He also wants an office space for meetings that are aimed at bringing people together to brainstorm and problem solve. “While we can do that virtually, I don’t think it takes on the same efficiency and value as having people in the room.”

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