With the exception of about 400 people — many of whom are volunteers — most of Erie Insurance’s 3,100 employees in Erie County have been working from home for 27 months.
That’s about to change.
Erie County’s largest employer begins accelerating the return-to-office process on Monday.
It won’t all happen all at once. Erie Insurance spokesman Matthew Cummings said 200 company employees, starting with the human resources and corporate services departments, will return to the office on Monday. They will be followed by 200 more every week through late August and into the fall, he said.
For many, it will be their first time inside the company‘s new $147 million Thomas B. Hagen building, a 346,000 square foot space downtown that has stood virtually empty for more than a year. after its completion.
For many others, this will be their first time working at an Erie Insurance facility.
“It should be noted that we have approximately 1,000 new co-workers who have been hired” since the company began working remotely as the COVID-19 shutdowns began in March 2020, Cummings said.
While some of these employees are moving into new positions, others are replacing retirees or others who have left the company.
“We’re not immune to the talent wars that’s unfolding,” Cummings said.
He was referring to a nationwide labor shortage, often associated with what is known as the Great Resignation, which has prompted many companies to rethink workplace expectations to include work options. remote and hybrid.
Erie Insurance is no exception.
In a January interview, Tim NeCastro, the company’s CEO, said, “We realize now that we probably won’t be back the way we left with just about everyone in the office. We know we’re going to need more flexibility.”
Some employees will return to the office four or five days a week, while a larger group, like Cummings, will work three days in the office and two at home.
“It really depends on the employee and the job,” he said.
So, with so many office workers working remotely, why does Erie Insurance require most of its employees to spend at least some of their time in the office?
“There’s no question we’ve been productive over the past two years, but a lot of what makes Erie (insurance) so special is gone,” Cummings said. “Having our employees together in a vigorous and dynamic workplace is really at the heart of our culture.”
After more than two years of working remotely, not everyone is eager to pull their casual work clothes out of the closet, say goodbye to the dog, and start heading to the office.
Cummings is quick to admit that not everyone is on board with the move, including changes to the office itself, where many employees will find themselves sharing desks with others who use the same space at different times. other times.
“There’s been a lot of excitement among the volunteers, and I’m one of them,” Cummings said. “People are going to have mixed opinions about it.
“As with everything, it will take time and patience for us to come together,” he continued. “We’re going to walk before we run. We’ll do it with that spirit of open learning and camaraderie that Erie is known for.”
As the return to work process continues through the remainder of the summer, Erie Insurance employees will return to many company facilities, both downtown and at Penn State Behrend’s Knowledge Park and Westport Center in Millcreek Township.
But for the most part they won’t be returning to the company’s main building, Perry Square, where renovations that began earlier this year are expected to take about three years.
The return of hundreds of Erie Insurance employees to the office is just the latest — but certainly the biggest step — toward returning to a pre-pandemic normal in downtown Erie.
While some of the county’s top employers, including UPMC Hamot, have maintained large in-person workforces throughout the pandemic, others, like National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp., have gradually brought many of their employees back to the office. .
Employees have been working at the company’s National Fuel regional headquarters at 1100 State St. for some time, but each day the workforce is down from pre-pandemic levels.
Employees are being asked to work a hybrid schedule of three days in the office and two days away, said utility spokeswoman Carly Manino.
Downtown Erie’s daily population jumped earlier this year when Erie County Executive Brenton Davis ordered about 1,000 county workers back to their offices.
Gannon University, which has around 1,200 full-time and part-time staff, has been back in the office since August last year.
Doug Oathout, a spokesperson for the university, said the return of Gannon and other employees bodes well for the business community.
“I think anytime you have most or all of your workforce, using all the downtown resources and facilities, that’s great for our downtown businesses like EDDC and the food court. Everyone suffered during COVID,” Oathout said.
What does the return of Erie Insurance mean for Flagship City Food Hall and Flagship City Public Market, both of which were developed by Erie Downtown Development Corp.?
“As the region’s largest employer, they have such an impact on the regional economy,” said EDDC CEO John Persinger. “That impact will surely be felt when their employees return to work. I think every business downtown will benefit from more people working downtown, living downtown, and visiting downtown.”
Jim Martin can be reached at [email protected].