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Pandemic work measures lead owners to rethink future of doing business – GoErie.com

Dana Massing   | Erie Times-News Bob Marz wonders if his architectural design firm will always need the 4,000-square-feet it is now renting in Erie.He

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Dana Massing
 
| Erie Times-News

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Bob Marz wonders if his architectural design firm will always need the 4,000-square-feet it is now renting in Erie.

He’s not planning to downsize Roth Marz Partnership, which employs eight people in Erie and one in Allentown. But the pandemic has some owners rethinking how they will do business in the future.

“We’ve learned we’re able to adapt and still perform our work and be remote,” Marz, president of Roth Marz Partnership, said.

He does spend each of his workdays in the office at 3505 Chapin St. but his employees have been working remotely since April. They do sometimes go into the office if they need to print a large drawing or pick up mail, he said.

Roth Marz employees are hardly alone. The Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research in June reported 42% of the U.S. labor force was working from home full time.

At the law firm of Amicangelo & Theisen, the two lawyers started working remotely in March before returning to their Erie office in June. An employee still works part-time from home. But Andrea Amicangelo and Jo Theisen haven’t reopened their doors at 1314 Griswold Plaza to clients.

Before the pandemic, they never even thought about communicating with clients other than in person or possibly by phone. Amicangelo said they’ve discovered that most people have been comfortable talking via video conferencing software.It’s more efficient and quicker, eliminating some of the chit-chat that occurs when people are together.

“I think it will be something we will continue to offer,” she said.

More: Zoom, the office and the future: What will work look like after coronavirus?

At the Northwestern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross, located in Millcreek Township, the four staff members have been working remotely since mid-March, local Executive Director Mary Rogers said.

She said they have gone into the office for supplies and to hold blood drives during the pandemic.

For disaster services, they might verify information with clients by phone or virtually. They are still meeting in person with some clients but maintain social distance. Rogers said, for example, that rather than handing their identification to an employee, a client might set it down on the hood of their car and step back. The employee would then step up and verify the ID.

“We’re still providing disaster services, we’re just doing it in a little different manner,” she said.

Perhaps the Red Cross volunteers have been the hardest hit. The Northwestern Pennsylvania Chapter has 222 volunteers and Rogers said many of them find it difficult when they are no longer meeting together.

Rogers said it’s also sometimes easier for a volunteer to read how a client is really doing when they are together rather than talking by phone or virtually.

She plans to return her staff to their office at 4961 Pittsburgh Ave. when the national Red Cross says it’s safe to do so.

Even then, it’s likely the virtual meeting options will remain in place.

At Roth Marz, video meetings with clients have also become the way of doing business, with in-person meetings only occurring once in a while, Marz said. But that can be an advantage. Instead of driving 5 hours to Harrisburg for a one-hour meeting with someone from the state Department of General Services and then driving 5 hours home, Roth Marz employees can talk to the state officials via computer from Erie, he said.

Marz hasn’t brought his employees back to the office full-time because he said “the pandemic is still not really under control” and some employees have school-age children who are still learning remotely.

Being apart does have drawbacks.

“You miss the socialization,” Marz said.

He said he has gotten used to being in the office alone and while he can no longer walk to a work station to collaborate with a team member, they still communicate.

“We have a daily (conference) call,” he said.

He said there’s also the opportunity for employees to do work when it’s more convenient for them. Marz said he received an email from one employee at 3 a.m.

“I think it’s somewhat of a more flexible schedule,” he said.

Amicangelo understands the need for flexibility. When the pandemic sent her to her Millcreek home, she was working at the dining room table, her fifth-grade son was doing remote school in his bedroom or the kitchen and her husband was working in the home office.

“Slow internet caused some issues,” she said.

And while her law practice has continued to grow during the pandemic, she said it’s also offered her more time to walk and talk and bake bread with her family. Not to mention the perk of being able to dress casually and take her Great Pyrenees rescue dog into the office almost every day.

Amicangelo said the pandemic has employers thinking more about how they can accommodate employees, who have personal lives and needs.

More: Could work-from-home option play to Erie’s strengths?

Marz thinks more businesses will also evaluate whether they need as much space. Rather than individual spots for everyone under the same roof at the same time, he said, a large room for all to gather in when needed and a couple work stations in the office might be enough.

“We’ll look at that and see what the future brings,” he said.

More: New downtown Erie Insurance building is ready to go, but plans to move in are months away

Contact Dana Massing at dmassing@timesnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @ETNmassing. 

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