Jul 26, 2020 - COVID

A few of Charlotte’s largest companies just told employees they’ll work from home for the rest of 2020. Will others follow?

Red Ventures HQ

Red Ventures headquarters (courtesy of Red ventures)

This story was last updated on Thursday, July 30, at 2:40 p.m.

When Charlotte companies made the quick shift to all-remote work back in March, they had no idea how long the new arrangement would last. Now, Red Ventures, LendingTree, Ally, and Brighthouse Financial are among a growing number of major local employers to say they won’t physically return to the office until at least early 2021. Could others follow suit?

Red Ventures, a technology/marketing company, is well-known for its hip campus in Indian Land, just over the state line. CEO Ric Elias says the company thrives on its “in-person culture,” with its fun amenities (a bowling alley and beer garden, for example) and close collaborative workspace. Those perks foster the company’s culture, and they’re also an important recruiting tool.

The transition to all remote work has been an adjustment for the company’s roughly 2,000 local employees. But they have been productive at home, Elias says.

On Friday, Elias informed the company’s global staff that they will not be expecting anyone to come back until at least January of next year. The Charlotte campus — where more than half of the company’s nearly 3,000 employees are based — will only be accessible to a handful of pre-approved employees through the end of 2020.

The decision, Elias says, stems from “the decisions of the school systems, the fact that we have not gotten the virus under control, (and) the fact that people — particularly working parents — are going to have to deal with a lot of different priorities on the back end of the year.”

Making the call now to work remotely through the end of 2020 gives the employees at least one less question mark for the rest of the year, Elias tells the Agenda.

Earlier this month, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board approved a back-to-school plan that includes two weeks of in-person instruction followed by remote learning indefinitely. In South Carolina, schools must offer the option to return to class. But some districts, including Lancaster, where Indian Land is, are opting for a hybrid of at-home and in-school learning.

At the same time, coronavirus metrics, such as hospitalizations, continue to worsen throughout the Carolinas.

“We feel like supporting our employees by giving them certainty right now is the best thing we can do,” Elias tells the Agenda.

building on red ventures campus
inside red ventures
Inside Red Ventures, before the pandemic

Last week, the Charlotte fintech company LendingTree also informed its roughly 500 local employees they will work remotely for the remainder of 2020.

For LendingTree, the timing works out rather well.

The fast-growing company is in the midst of building a new headquarters in South End, at South Tryon Street and Carson Boulevard. LendingTree will occupy 175,000 square feet of space in one of the two 11-story towers that The Spectrum Companies is developing.

The company won’t return to work at its old Ballantyne headquarters at all. Instead, employees will continue working from home until the new South End offices are ready, which will be in early 2021, says Jill Olmstead, LendingTree’s chief human resources officer.

The new office is much larger than LendingTree’s old one, and will allow for spacing out of desks if necessary when employees return, she adds.

In the interim, for employees who need some kind of workspace outside the home, LendingTree is offering voluntary “nesting” options. Essentially, that’s an empty office at one of LendingTree’s area locations that employees can opt to sign themselves up for if they need.

And for anyone else working from home, the company’s offering temporary reimbursements for costs like childcare or office supplies, Olmstead says.

In a survey of all of LendingTree’s 1,200 employees nationwide about a month ago, employees reported feeling productive working from home, Olmstead says.

The pandemic likely will change how LendingTree operates.

“Until there’s a vaccine that people are using and we know that it is working, I do think we will continue a very flexible work schedule,” Olmstead says.

lendingtree new office under construction
LendingTree’s new headquarters under construction in South End
Rendering of the 'town hall' staircase area at LendingTree's new headquarters under construction in South End (courtesy of LendingTree)
Rendering of the ‘town hall’ staircase area at LendingTree’s new headquarters under construction in South End (courtesy of LendingTree)
Rendering of the social center at LendingTree's new headquarters under construction in South End.
Rendering of the social center at LendingTree’s new headquarters under construction in South End (courtesy of LendingTree)

Charlotte-based Brighthouse Financial recently told its employees that they will be working remotely for the remainder of the year, the company’s communications director Deon Roberts confirms.

Brighthouse is the financial services company that MetLife spun off in 2017. The company has its headquarters in Ballantyne and employs approximately 1,300 people, the majority of whom are in Charlotte.

The local employers join a growing number of large national companies that are telling their employees to work from home until 2021. A few others on that list are Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Twitter.

Google, which previously said all of its employees can work remotely through the end of the year, is now saying they can do so until at least July 2021.

These companies’ new work-from-home policies, along with the ongoing uncertainty around the pandemic, could prompt other companies and industries to follow suit.

“They’ve had a ripple effect on how other industries and sectors understand what a white collar workplace should look like if you want to attract the best talent,” Margaret O’Mara, a tech industry expert and history professor and University of Washington, recently told the Washington Post.

Ally, which employs about 1,900 people in Charlotte, informed employees earlier this week that they’ll be working remotely for the remainder of 2020.

“We do not foresee Ally employees returning to any of our facilities in any significant numbers before year-end,” spokeswoman Jillian Palash tells the Agenda.

Citing logistical challenges like childcare, the bank plans to give employees at least four weeks’ notice before making any request that they physically return to work.

“We will take our time to consider and plan for the extensive and complex variables that will guide a safe return, using data and science to inform our decisions. Above all, we will not risk employee health by re-entering too quickly,” Palash adds.

In other industries in Charlotte, several companies are still evaluating what to do:

  • Bank of America, which employs roughly 16,000 in Charlotte, has no date set yet for returning to the office, spokesman Mark Pipitone says. No moves will occur before Labor Day, though. “Our plans are for employees to return to their offices in phases. The moves will vary by role, department, and location,” Pipitone says.
  • Wells Fargo, which has about 27,500 employees in the Charlotte region, will continue with its current operating model, which includes most employees working from home. “We are creating a thoughtful, phased plan for returning to the workplace, and we will use guidance from health experts to maintain a safe workplace for all employees,” spokesman Josh Dunn says.
  • Truist, which has about 2,000 corporate employees in the Charlotte region, says the majority of its workforce continues to work from home. Those at branches and other facilities that are open follow strict safety procedures, such as mask-wearing and social distancing. “We are taking a careful and phased approach to returning additional teammates to onsite work when the time is right, and continue to be guided by the facts and the guidance of health experts as we make our decisions in this rapidly evolving situation,” spokesman Kyle Tarrance says.
  • Duke Energy has about 6,000 employees who work in the Uptown Charlotte area, and nearly 90 percent are working from home at the moment. Duke Energy is establishing a phased-in return to work. Phase One began in mid-June with 200-300 employees, spokesman Neil Nissan says. “We’re closely monitoring the conditions in our communities, which will help determine timing for Phase Two of our return to the workplace,” Nissan says. The company is adopting a range of safety measures for each facility, such as social distancing and face coverings.

[Agenda related guides: Top 12 employers that people want to work for in Charlotte (and who’s hiring) and 100+ open jobs on the Axios Charlotte Job Board]

Elias, the Red Ventures CEO, continues to ask his employees to comply with the guidance of health professionals to help curb the spread of Covid-19.

He’s hopeful to return to campus before too long.

“This is a self inflicted wound by our country. This is not what’s happening in other parts of the world, and it’s because we have refused to wear masks,” Elias says.

“If you’re outside and you keep your distance and you wear a mask, we could all be living a very different life. Kids could be going back to school. Everybody has to do their part.”

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