KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted traditional working spaces across the board.
To eliminate passing the coronavirus among coworkers, many companies allowed their employees to work from home, where a person can be more isolated and in less danger of transmitting the virus.
More than two years since the beginning of the pandemic, some of those working habits remain in place, but for different reasons.
Data from Pew Research now shows 61% of people who have the option to work in the office choose to work from home even though it’s no longer necessary.
In this 360 story, KSHB 41 News will share multiple perspectives to show you how working habits have changed. You’ll hear from the following people:
- A national corporation headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri
- A recruiting and job placement firm
- A commercial real estate expert
- A coworking space
- A woman who splits her time between the office and her home
- A couple whose job can’t be done from home
A national corporation headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri
The first H&R Block office was on Main Street in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1955.
Since 2006, the accounting firm’s headquarters has occupied a large office building at 13th and Main streets, where it houses between 1,800-2,000 employees.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, the corporation sent its employees home to work remotely.
“Our culture is based on being connected, and so we had to really work on how do we build those connections when we can’t see people face to face,” said Sarah Lauck, H&R Block’s vice president of human resources, talent and belonging.
The company invested heavily in technology upgrades like webcams to maintain its connected culture.
As vaccines became more widely available in the summer of 2021, Lauck said the company’s plan was to have employees return to the office in a hybrid role: working at home Monday and Friday but in the office Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Quickly, company executives realized that setup wasn’t necessary. It now advises employees to do what feels right for themselves and their roles.
“I know this from being in human resources for years, you’re never going to make everyone happy,” Lauck said. “But I do believe when you put choice in anyone’s hands, that feels better than being told this is exactly what you’re going to do.”
A recruiting and job placement firm
Tori Marlo sees trends in the employment world come and go.
She works at TalentFund, a Brookside-based job placement and recruiting firm.
Right now, she says job-seekers want to be able to work from home while most employers want more of their employees in the office.
“It is a huge topic right now. I would say between clients and job-seekers, it’s a daily conversation we’re having,” Marlo said.
She said employers are offering perks like extra time off and better pay to lure the perfect employee.
But those potential employees also want the flexibility that comes with working from home. Marlo said that often leads to compromise.
“I really think the perfect fit is possible,” she said. “It may take a little extra hard work, a little creativity when it comes to making those compromises, but, at the end of the day, we feel good companies and good people compromise to create a long-lasting relationship.”
A commercial real estate expert
Rollie Fors and his team at CBRE in Kansas City led the KC Business Journal’s 2021 list of largest commercial real estate firms, as ranked by dollar volume.
The Kansas City arm of the worldwide company sold or leased $1.6 billion in 2021.
“There’s no one size fits all. All companies are different, how they use space is different,” said Fors, senior vice president of the Kansas City branch.
He said employers are improving offices to lure employees away from their homes.
Many companies have upgraded to higher-quality spaces. Companies are looking for amenities that focus on items you can’t get at home like fitness centers, food options and collaboration spaces.
“The one thing employers are competing against is the comfort of your own home,” Fors said.
Surprisingly, the amount of vacant office space isn’t as low as you might expect.
CBRE says about 83% of office space around Kansas City is currently vacant. The number was at 87% before the pandemic began in 2020.
The price landlords are charging for office space hasn’t fallen much either in the past two years.
CBRE reports the average price per square foot for the highest quality office space is down $2 from $25 in 2020 to $23 in 2022.
Fors said instead of dropping prices, landlords are offering free rent or helping tenants remodel spaces to fit their needs.
He expects 75% of companies to retain a hybrid model moving forward, estimates 20% will mandate everyone work in the office and believes the remaining 5% will work totally remotely.
“The office is evolving. It always kind of has evolved and changed as companies are looking for ways to attract and retain talent,” Fors said.
A coworking space
Grayson Smith visits one of Plexpod's four Kansas City area locations on any given day.
He’s the director of operations for the flex-space company.
Monthly membership provides clients access to all four locations where they can access private or open desks, high-speed internet, break rooms, conference rooms and countless amenities.
“They’re not looking for a cube farm 40 hours a week anymore,” Smith said of his clientele. “They’re looking for a flexible space where they can sit on the couch for a couple of hours a day, or they can work at a sit/stand desk, or they can move between different working environments.”
One big change Plexpod has noticed since the COVID-19 pandemic is an emphasis on amenities.
Plexpod’s newest location inside the Flashcube apartments near 7th and Main streets features indoor basketball, volleyball, pickleball and soccer courts.
There’s also pingpong, foosball and other tabletop games. Alongside traditional offices are large lounge-like areas and intimate rooms for making private phone calls.
Smith said his members range from financial companies to massage therapists, tattoo artists and everything in between.
“Previously it was more office space, it was more closed doors, more private work environments,” Smith said. “Now it’s the exact opposite. Now it’s more amenities, more open spaces, more community spaces. Post-COVID, we’ve really shifted the way we think about flex office space.”
Plexpod will keep that mindset front and center as it prepares to open new locations.
A woman who splits her time between the office and her home
Melba Morris has worked in advertising for close to 50 years, that’s about 18,200 days. And for almost every single one of those 18,200 days, she drove to work at an office.
Now, her employer implemented a hybrid policy. She works from home two days a week and in the office three days a week.
Morris said transitioning to working from home wasn’t hard. In fact, it’s paid off.
“I think I was probably more productive and continue to be more productive at home,” she said.
Morris added there are reasons to continue working in the office, like training new employees and maintaining a connection with coworkers, but she’s happy to work from home, too.
A couple whose job can’t be done from home
Kelvin and Rischa Powell own Game Day Chicken Wings, Burgers, and Fish near 89th Street and Wornall Road in Kansas City, Missouri.
Rischa loves the po’ boy sandwich and Kelvin prefers a burger with his own not-found-on-the-menu twist.
“I can’t believe she said that,” Kelvin said surprised by his wife’s answer.
Kelvin was also surprised when Rischa suggested they turn the restaurant into a take-out-only establishment to protect themselves during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Since finding staff has remained difficult, Game Day remains to-go only, aside from some patio seating.
“During COVID, we had to change our game, and the new game is to-go,” Kelvin said.
The Powells fit the majority of Americans who cannot do their jobs remotely.
According to the University of Washington, roughly 75% of the American labor force can’t work exclusively from home.
Kelvin admits there are days when he dreams about working from home.
He says his “office,” the restaurant, has become his home. He hopes more Americans return to office settings so he can secure more catering opportunities.
“I think our catering grew in the last, I’ll say, the last year. We would love do to more catering,” Kelvin said.
As part of KSHB 41 News' commitment to providing context and depth in our reporting, we've excited to share our latest project, which we're calling 360. This project takes stories and topics that our communities are talking about and explores different perspectives on the issue. You can be a part of the process by e-mailing your ideas and thoughts to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.