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Houston Companies Embrace Telecommuting, Heed Local Guidance, Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Published Mar 23, 2020 by A.J. Mistretta

HOUSTON (March 23, 2020) – Major companies across the greater Houston region are observing guidance from local and state officials to shift large segments of their workforce to telecommuting arrangements, according to a survey by the Greater Houston Partnership of its board member companies. Of the 62 companies that responded to the survey, 97 percent indicated they had implemented new teleworking policies for their Houston-area office-based employees. 

“Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo asked Houston companies to maximize telecommuting arrangements to avoid the transmission of COVID-19 at the workplace. I am pleased to say the business community has responded with overwhelming compliance,” said Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, the region’s leading business group.

Turner and Hidalgo issued the guidance on March 12 as part of several measures to decrease community spread of the virus. Then, on Thursday, March 19, Texas Governor Greg Abbott asked citizens to avoid gatherings of more than ten people and shifted restaurant patronage to delivery and to-go orders only.

While most Houston employers have implemented teleworking for their office-based employees, many companies have critical operations in the energy, healthcare, and manufacturing sectors that require on-site support from essential operations staff. In many cases, these roles cannot telecommute practically or by regulatory standard. These companies have indicated they have shifted to staggered schedules (for instance, maintaining separate teams working two weeks on, two weeks off) and other procedures, such as enhanced sanitization of control panels throughout the workday and between shifts to both protect their employees and the essential operations of their critical assets.

“Our people, clients and community have been at the heart of our endeavors for more than 120 years,” said Leslie Duke, president of engineering and construction firm Burns & McDonnell. “With safety as our priority, we have our business continuity plan in play that includes bolstering our IT teleworking capabilities, providing real-time updates, restricting travel and much more. We stand united with our Houston community, and together we’ll prevail creating an even deeper community bond.”

“Employees and businesses across Houston are redefining resiliency as we all adapt to meet business and community needs in a period of great anxiety and uncertainty,” said Gretchen Watkins, president of Shell Oil Co. “On the front lines, the most valuable role we can play is to continue providing fuel and power to keep the City operational. We’re also working hard to maintain production of chemicals deemed critical in combatting the spread of the virus, including isopropanol – a key component of hand sanitizer. Behind the scenes, Shell employees are adjusting to new ways of working, most notably by conferencing from home - which carries with it occasional cameos from laughing children and barking dogs. Now, more than ever, we have to embrace the little things, exercise patience, and look after each other as we navigate this challenge together.”  

“The axiom ‘no one ever wants the lights to go out’ is pertinent perhaps now more than ever. Calpine’s dedicated power plant employees continue to staff their stations to ensure electric reliability,” said Thad Hill, president and CEO of Houston-based electricity provider Calpine Corp.  “For these operational employees we are utilizing many tools to keep people safe including structural social distancing (no shift overlaps), very focused hygiene and regular health checks. Of course, their efforts require substantial daily support from our office personnel most of whom have now been called upon to work remotely and are doing so very effectively. We are proud of our employees in this very difficult time and are confident we will come through it by staying focused and working together.”

“Houstonians and our companies are resilient and resourceful. We’ve shown time and time again we are a can-do city. This is another example of how we can keep our region moving, even in the face of extreme situations,” concluded Harvey.

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Greater Houston Partnership 
The Greater Houston Partnership works to make Houston one of the best places to live, work and build a business. As the economic development organization for the Houston region, the Partnership champions growth across 11 counties by bringing together business and civic-minded leaders who are dedicated to the area’s long-term success. Representing 1,100 member organizations and approximately one-fifth of the region’s workforce, the Partnership is the place business leaders come together to make an impact. Learn more at Houston.org.

CONTACT:    

    A.J. Mistretta
    Vice President, Communications         
    (c) 504-450-3516 | amistretta@houston.org    

    Maggie Martin 
    Senior Manager, Communications         
    mmartin@houston.org 
 

Executive Partners