Donald A. Promnitz">

Photo via Bitwise Industries

published on July 15, 2020 - 2:39 PM
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As concerns of a second wave of coronavirus infections looms, and the first wave gains steam, many companies remain hesitant to reopen or send their employees back to the workplace — and in the case of some — that means the remainder of the year.

It’s become an appealing position to take in recent weeks, even as the state continues to open back up. That’s reinforced by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision Wednesday to further tighten lockdowns on certain types of indoor businesses, including bars and family entertainment centers.

Last month, Bitwise Industries announced it would remain closed and working from home for the remainder of 2020. According to Channelle Charest, speaking for Bitwise, the decision was made by founders Irma Olguin, Jr. and Jake Soberal, as reports of new infections continued to rise.

“The data, science and the numbers that have come out haven’t really given us the reassurance that it’s time to reopen, or that it would be safe to send everybody back to work,” Charest said. “And so we’re really just kind of waiting with the rest of the country until there are a lot of other safe parameters in place.”

The buildings themselves are still open to tenants and space is still available for lease, but all 200 employees affiliated with Bitwise Industries are out of the office. However, this hasn’t been an easy process. This includes Bitwise affiliates such as Shift3 Technologies, Geekwise Academy and Ordrslip.

However, coordinating the effort was no easy task, as Charest explained that there was the need to make sure their programmers and other tech employees had the resources and equipment they needed to do their jobs. But perhaps an even bigger issue was that more than two-thirds of the people on their payroll don’t work in tech.

Since they’d decided there would be no layoffs or furloughs, Bitwise leadership had to find a way to repurpose some of their employees. They’ve been able to achieve this through initiatives like the “Take Care” program — the result of a partnership with the Central California Food Bank and Neighborhood Industries — which has them delivering groceries to the underprivileged in the Fresno community. The programmers have also been busy with projects like OnwardCA and OnwardUS.

“We were able to put folks to work in a different way, and a totally different capacity than maybe what they were hired for,” Charest explained. “But that’s the great part of our team is that everyone is very nimble and is able to kind of just jump in wherever they’re needed, and so we’re still doing that effectively.”

Meanwhile, there are still other companies with employees working from home not only because of the virus, but to meet the needs of their families. Tangram Interiors in North Fresno, for example, has taken to split shifts that have employees come in some days and work from home on others. This is in part to help the parents who’ve found themselves in the difficult position of balancing work with parenting, as childcare centers remain closed.

Alyssa Armesto, general manager for Tangram’s Fresno office, says this is made more complicated by the varying plans for reopening, which range from district to district and facility to facility.

“We all know the information is so fluid, so we don’t know which schools are going back, we don’t know which daycares are going to be open, or more importantly, when families are going to feel comfortable sending their kids back to school,” she said.

Armesto elaborated that when shelter-in-place measures were first implemented, the Tangram office set up a “war room” committee consisting of their department leaders. It was this committee, she explained, that determined not only their work-from-home plan, but also a return plan, with employees whose jobs require them to be in the office having the top priority on coming back.

Getting them back to work required extended safety precautions, with their goal being that the office would be the “second safest” place to be besides an employee’s own home.

“Our whole goal through all of this was to make sure our people were protected,” Armesto said. “And we’ve made a lot of strategic moves to make it a very safe and sanitized environment for our employees to go back in.”

Employees at Tangram are currently working part time. Armesto said they are also allowing employees with underlying health conditions — or who have family members with underlying conditions — to work from home.

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