Future of Work: Meyer Memorial Trust eagerly awaits entry into new office

Photo: Jason E. Kaplan

The third in our series of interviews with business leaders about the future of work is with Michelle DePass, CEO of Meyer Memorial Trust.

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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.

The third in our series of interviews with business leaders is with Michelle DePass, CEO of Meyer Memorial Trust.
Building community is the backbone of Meyer Memorial Trust’s operation. In that respect, not being able to work out of its new office building has been a challenge — and a disappointment.

In October 2020, the nonprofit foundation completed construction of a 25,000-square-foot office space in North Portland. The new building features a library; an educational garden; artwork by Black, Indigenous and other people of color; as well as a meeting space for organizational partners. Before operations could begin, the COVID-19 precautions took effect.

“We built a convening space for all people of all backgrounds to come together and have meaningful conversation revolving around the big issues facing Oregon today,” says CEO Michelle DePass. “We have been looking forward to it for two years, and we are still looking forward to it.”

Given the importance of face-to-face connections in nonprofit work, DePass does not see a future in which staff members work remotely full-time. But the pandemic has opened the organization’s eyes to what is possible for employees.

“Coronavirus proved we could get the work done in ways we hadn’t tested before. Now we might have a joint document instead of having a meeting. I don’t see permanent remote work schedules, but I do see flexibility,” says DePass. “The pandemic proved creating community in online spaces was possible, but you have to build those initial relationships first.”

Once employees finally get inside the new building, they will find it equipped to face the new world of remote and long-distance work. The meeting room has been fitted with videoconferencing technology to accommodate partners and community members unable to make meetings in person.

The pandemic has also highlighted issues related to the organization’s mission of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as creating a more equitable society for people of color. Coronavirus has highlighted the need for more affordable broadband access in communities of color and rural communities. “This is a high-priority racial justice issue,” says DePass. “It’s front and center.”

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