Future of Work: Managing Employees Who Cannot Work From Home

Photo: Jason E. Kaplan

The next in our series of interviews with business leaders on the future of work is with Jessica Gomez, CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices.

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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 fourth of our series of interviews with executives, Jessica Gomez, CEO of tech manufacturer Rogue Valley Microdevices, is concerned it may become more difficult to recruit employees who cannot work from home.  

As the head of a manufacturer, the shift to remote work has been more challenging to manage for Jessica Gomez, CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices, than for leaders of professional-services firms.

Gomez’s Medford company makes silicon wafers and electromechanical sensors. The products are manufactured in a cleanroom that is designed to minimize particulates, such as airborne organisms, and, for this reason, offers more protection from coronavirus transmission than more typical manufacturing facilities.

The company reduced bottlenecks around the entry and exit to the cleanroom and asked staff who are not active in the fabrication area to work from home. Gomez says the barriers to communication caused by remote working were a “really big deal” in the first few weeks of the pandemic.

“We did lose some effectiveness depending on the person’s job function, because there is a lot of communication that happens between people working inside the fab and outside the fab, mainly related to the decision-making process of what to do with certain materials.

“There are times when we pull one or two people into a meeting to solve a problem. That becomes more logistically challenging.”

Despite the challenges, the flexibility of working from home will be a permanent employee benefit when life gets back to normal. “Having that additional flexibility will continue, and it is a wonderful thing for families and people who are dealing with the basic challenges of life,” says Gomez.

“My hope is that people use the flexibility to reduce their stress levels. I think that will be a permanent and positive change.”

The shift to remote working does create challenges for manufacturers, however. Gomez is concerned it will deepen the disparity between companies that can easily implement remote working and manufacturers that find it harder to do so.

“I think that gap is widening, which I believe will become challenging in the future. As the disparity grows between those two types of work, my feelings are it will be harder and harder to recruit.”

She is also concerned about resentment growing within manufacturing companies between employees who cannot work remotely and those who can. “Within a company — and this is not exclusive to us — there will be some careers that are more suited to remote work and lots of flexibility, and the core manufacturing staff who actually need to be at work.

“There will be challenges over how to manage that from a company culture perspective. How do you maintain a positive culture and reward those people who have committed themselves to having a stricter schedule? It will be a challenge we will all have to work through.”

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