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The receptionist space and lobby at Sikich, a 25,000-square- foot office space in downtown Chicago, sit empty as most of the company’s workers work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020.

BEND — Residents of rural areas think working from home is temporary and as soon as the threat of the pandemic ends, everyone will return to the office.

What’s more likely to occur is increased flex time, where work is split between the office and home, said Dan McCarthy, High Lakes Health Care regional administrator. Post-pandemic, McCarthy said, the company that employs about 350 people throughout Central Oregon will still have remote workers.

“We found that a hybrid approach that balances work from home with office hours is something that will be here to stay,” McCarthy said. “I believe there is something lost when working virtually 100% of the time.”

Working from home misses checking in with each other, developing a sense of community and the dynamic interaction of problem-solving, he said. Virtual platforms just don’t cut it.

McCarthy’s views mirror about 601 people who were surveyed March 5-10 as part of the Oregon Values and Voices project, a nonpartisan charitable organization that partnered with Pamplin Media Group, EO Media Group, which owns The Bulletin and The Observer, and the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center.

The survey consisted of 49 questions sent to a random sample about changes caused by COVID-19 that will become permanent in Oregon. This is the second such survey orchestrated by the group on the effects of COVID-19.

In one question, 47% of the people who live in rural Oregon say they felt working from home was only temporary, compared to 37% in the Willamette Valley and tri-county area around Portland who said it’s temporary. Since workers in urban and suburban communities are more likely affected by congestion, their commute times are longer, making working from home more attractive, said Adam Davis, Oregon Values and Beliefs Center co-founder.

“As a result of the coronavirus and how it has affected life at home and employment, a strong majority of Oregonians feel more of us in the future will work from home,” Davis said. “This feeling is shared across all population subgroups with many feeling the change will be permanent.”

Cheri Rosenberg, Pendleton Chamber of Commerce CEO, said the small-town feel has created a tight bond between employee and employer. The population of Pendleton, according to U.S. Census Bureau’s most current estimates, is 16,733.

“Because we tend to have a more personal relationship between our employers and employees, it’s a conversation we are able to have,” Rosenberg said in an email. “For those who are able and prefer to work from home, those steps are being taken. For those who are ready to get back into the office, those steps are being taken there as well.

“We’re able to have the best of both worlds due to the ability to be very open and candid with one another.”

In the survey, 33% of those ages 45-64 said the ability to work from home was temporary, compared to 53% in the same age group that thought working from home was permanent. And 64% of those who earned more than $100,000 a year said they believed working from home would become permanent, compared to 28%, earning the same amount, who said it would be temporary.

The survey’s margin of error, for the full sample, ranges from 2.4% to 4% depending on how the response category percentages are split for any given question, according to the survey authors.

Katy Brooks, Bend Chamber of Commerce CEO, said she’s seen the data play out during this past year.

But Bend is a city with a high percentage of remote workers given that Bend has a low inventory of office space and employees appear to like the flexibility of working from home.

“There are plain savings in office space, utilities if they function well with a hybrid or remote format,” Brooks said. “I’ve spoken to dozens of companies in Bend who are considering a permanent hybrid model for these reasons.”

Reporter: 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com

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