Remote Work Likely to Continue With School Plans in Flux

Remote Work Likely to Continue With School Plans in Flux

Flexibility for Minnesota school districts puts added pressure on the business community to remain flexible with employee work schedules this fall.

On Thursday, Gov. Tim Walz unveiled a flexible approach to the start of the school year, with many big decisions largely falling on school districts themselves. State leaders say the “safer learning” plan is a “localized, data-driven approach.”

Based on the number of coronavirus cases in a given county, schools will be given general guidelines for in-person instruction, online classes, or a mixture of both. If a county reports nine or fewer cases per 10,000 residents, for instance, school districts there will be given the green light for in-person learning. If the number of cases is 50 or greater, the state recommends distance learning for all students.

There are no hard-and-fast rules, though. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the plan is “intended to be a flexible approach that schools and school districts will use and adapt throughout the year.”

“It’s not wherever you start is where you’ll stay,” she added. “The virus will continue to evolve, and so will these plans.”

She also emphasized that the approach is “consultative,” where state officials will work closely with school districts on fall semester plans.

“This is one of the most consequential, important and difficult decisions we’ve had to make as an administration,” Malcolm said.

Based on the state’s current coronavirus data, 181 school districts would return to in-person learning in the fall, while about 230 would have a mix of in-person instruction and online courses, according to deputy education commissioner Heather Mueller. Of course, those figures are subject to change as the number of cases fluctuates between now and fall.

With the specifics of many Minnesota districts still in question, many companies have held off on announcing fall plans. Target, the largest employer in Minneapolis with more than 8,000 workers according to a 2019 report, has no plans for a full fledged return to headquarters this year. “Our priority continues to be the safety and well-being of our team,” a spokesperson said Thursday. “We’re taking a gradual approach to returning to the office with the vast majority of team members working remotely—either full-time or combined with going into the office—for the rest of 2020.”

Sleep Number, another downtown Minneapolis employer with around 700 working at headquarters, isn’t rushing back either. “We’re assuring our team members flexibility,” said Julie Elepano, senior public relations manager. Currently about 10 percent of Sleep Number’s downtown workforce is reporting to the office—that’s mostly team members in building security or research and development who need to be near testing equipment.

Sleep Number instituted a flexible work policy two years ago, which made the transition easier, Elepano said. “While this was the largest scale ‘Work for Your Day’ effort our team members have done, we had the technical tools in place in order for people to work and remain highly productive.”

Wells Fargo, which employs around 18,000 people in Minnesota, plans to keep those who are not essential to bank branch operations working from home until at least Sept. 7. “We do not yet know when our business-as-usual activities will resume,” said Steve Carlson, Wells Fargo regional vice president of corporate communications. “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, including those who have continued to work from the office and those who will be returning to the office over the course of time.”

Lawyers are among the professionals who’ve been working from home, and it appears that many of them will remain at home in the fall when their children return to online classes.

“The pandemic has created a school and childcare crisis,” says Karla Vehrs, managing partner of the Minneapolis office of Ballard Spahr. Vehrs notes it’s having a profound impact on lawyers and other staff with young children.

“While this childcare emergency is by no means limited to women, at a societal level, this crisis has a greater impact on women and threatens to undo decades of progress on gender equity,” she says. Ballard Spahr has strengthened its “flexible work arrangement policy,” Vehrs says, so employees have firm support to work during times that fit their personal circumstances.

Ballard Spahr is a national law firm, and its Minneapolis office previously was the Lindquist & Vennum firm before it merged into Ballard.

Ballard’s office is located in the IDS Center in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, but you won’t find much activity there. “We have no more than a handful of attorneys working on site each day, and we anticipate this trend continuing for the foreseeable future,” Vehrs says.

“Due to the continuing health risks posed by the pandemic, our expectation is that everyone will continue to work remotely unless the need arises to work in the office on a given day,” she says. Depending upon the school district where their children are enrolled, many of these attorneys will have company at home as children resume online learning they began in the spring.