WILKES-BARRE – With her 18-year-old cat Simba, who runs her company, Lynn Dobrowolski, Program Manager for the Policy Rating Team at Berkshire Hathaway GUARD, can look out the big window and enjoy the view at her home office.
Dobrowolski, 55, of Kingston, has been with the company for 32 years. She said when the company’s nearly 1,000 downtown employees were sent home to work almost a year ago, it was expected that they would return to their new home in the public square in a short time.
A year later, Dobrowolski has settled into her new work environment, and Simba and a few other cats, as well as a Pomeranian named Nikki, serve as companions and distractors – employees if you will – in an otherwise lonely workplace.
While Simba relaxes in a drawer under her computer, Dobrowolski now has a different expectation of this “new normal”, as it is called.
“We will never go back to the life we left,” she said. “It will be an adjustment when we return.”
When Dobrowolski started working from home, she said she worked from her kitchen table. When the situation persisted, she said she went to her dining table, but that too was “getting old.” Then, as Christmas drew near, she asked her friend Brett Shoemaker, who works at the Button Oil house, for a special gift.
“Brett got me a new desk and chair and I moved into the family room,” said Dobrowolski.
In addition to the large window, the family room has a couch, chair, and a converted fireplace, as well as a TV so you can keep an eye on the day’s news.
“It feels more durable and more comfortable,” she said. “I used to hate the term ‘new normal’, but I think now we have to accept that.”
Dobrowolski said one of her biggest problems when starting work from home “new normal” is managing her team.
“Our leadership style had to develop along the way,” she said. “My team has adapted very well. We have successfully mastered this new world. “
Before the pandemic, Dobrowolski said the office environment was a tight space where people could hear and see each other. She held a daily stand-up meeting where the ZOOM conference and the topics were discussed and discussed. She said the meeting will last about 15 minutes.
“When we return to the office, we will continue the stand-up meetings,” said Dobrowolski. “There were challenges, but we learned to work differently. We have embraced all new technologies that are necessary and extremely helpful. “
And Dobrowolski added that her team galvanized themselves and through all of that, they got a lot closer.
“And we don’t have to drive to work on days like this,” she said, referring to a recent snow storm.
However, the “new normal” has some drawbacks. Dobrowolski said she missed being downtown and being able to leave the building to take a walk during her lunch break. She misses the public square and its events and restaurants like Thai Thai and Franklin’s / Rodano’s and her favorite spot, Boscov’s, where she would run around and browse.
“I miss the personal interaction – the conversation, the laughter, the listening,” she said.
“I’ve been downtown for 32 years, yes I miss it,” she said.
The local perspective
Elizabeth Hartman, vice president of marketing at GUARD Insurance Companies of Berkshire Hathaway, said the company is keeping the pulse of the coronavirus infection rate.
“We think the current downtrends are positive,” said Hartman. “If current trends of an increase in vaccinations and a decrease in the spread of the coronavirus continue, we will consider a gradual approach to getting back to the office.”
Hartman said that because employees could work effectively from home, the company didn’t feel the need to bring everyone back to the office.
“There is no doubt, however, that the longer we work outside of the office, the less culture and business it creates for the company,” said Hartman. “When we open the office, we will follow all social distancing and hygiene protocols if necessary. We have already taken numerous steps such as: B. the installation of UV cleaning in our HVAC systems, the location of the workplaces, the monitoring of the flow of traffic at the time of entry into the building, etc. “
Anthony Matrisciano, who works in corporate communications at Highmark Health, said everyone in the Wilkes-Barre office has been working from home since March last year, except for building maintenance and facilities.
“We have advised employees that employees are unlikely to return to an office setting before July 2021,” said Matrisciano. “We have a team of doctors and other clinicians from our health plan side (Highmark) and our health system side (Allegheny Health Network) who work daily to ensure our employees stay safe and can return to work safely.”
Matrisciano said the company is closely monitoring the pandemic in all areas that have facilities in Pennsylvania (including Wilkes-Barre), West Virginia, and Delaware.
“And we will continue to review when it makes sense for our employees to return safely,” he said.
ZOOM is great, but …
Katie Kemmerer, regional community affairs manager at Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, said she had to deal with a mixture of emotions when facing the concept of work from home.
“At first I really thought it was going to be a week or two or a month,” she said. “I never thought that we would still be here a year later. At first there was sure to be a lot of uncertainty. “
Kemmerer, 36, from Mountaintop, has been working from home since March 2020. She said she used much of her work in the community and attended events, meetings, and dinners.
“So now I had to switch to a job that relied more on sitting in front of a computer and doing everything virtually,” said Kemmerer. “And Highmark made it easy for us to adapt.”
Kemmerer said she doesn’t miss having to drive down the mountain every day to work and return home, especially when the weather is bad.
“It also saves time,” she said. “And it was really nice to connect with Highmark employees across Pennsylvania. ZOOM is great, but I miss the personal interaction of my job. “
Kemmerer, who has been with Highmark for 15 years, said a huge downside was that she missed seeing and talking to her staff.
“Working from home just isn’t the same,” she said. “Hopefully we can get back to the traditional office environment soon. We have learned that we can work virtually. “
Kemmerer said she often thinks about downtown businesses and how the pandemic has affected her.
“I am thinking of the cafes and restaurants and parking lots,” she said. “There had to be a lot of fallout from that.”
Kemmerer said a year had passed and the fear of COVID-19 continued.
“It was a scary time and it continues to be,” she said. “Hopefully the vaccines will be given and one day we can go back to some form of normalcy.”
Didn’t miss a beat
Bill Orasin, 33, of Forest City, is the vice president of Regulatory Compliance and State Filings for Berkshire Hathaway GUARD. He said the company was very fortunate to have all the technology it needed before employees had to work from home.
“We actually had ZOOM meetings before the pandemic,” Orasin said. “Our employees went to work from home without any problems. GUARD sent us home with everything we needed to do our work from home. At home I only needed electricity and internet. “
Orasin said his daily round trip totaled 96 miles for 12 years for GUARD.
“I don’t miss being on Interstate 81 every day worrying about traffic, weather, car wear and tear, and gasoline prices. All of that was suddenly eliminated. And I’ve gained two hours back every day and I’m using it more efficiently. I can do more around the house and have more free time. “
Orasin said that working from home requires discipline. He said he was putting his time, but he had to be careful not to work any longer.
“At GUARD it’s important to have a work-life balance,” he said. So I need to be more disciplined and leave my job when it is time to leave. “
Orasin also misses the personal interactions of work in the office – he called it social creativity.
“I did a lot when I met a colleague in the office or in the hallway and exchanged creative ideas,” he said. “These encounters spark conversation and creativity. Now we have to plan a meeting and wait for confirmation. “
Orasin also misses the city’s downtown area – he was a frequent customer of Circles on the Square and he enjoyed walking around town.
“We’re not there to support downtown business,” he said.