COVID-19 permanently changing aspects of Iowa City jobs

Iowa City employers plan to keep certain aspects of working from home with how they plan to manage their employees as cases continue to fluctuate.


Meg Doster, News Reporter

Iowa City white-collar jobs have changed from the standard in-person office work environment because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Working from home has been the norm for desk professions for the past two years since the pandemic made it necessary, but some employers are planning to maintain the option even when the pandemic eventually ends.

The University of Iowa is the largest employer in Iowa City, with 14,000 employees, including 1,400 “tenured and tenured-track professors.

“While some jobs necessitate the need for in-person work, some jobs can be performed hybrid, and a small number can be performed fully remote—benefitting both the university and the employee. Most jobs will remain in person at least some of the time,” Sara Hoffman, communications specialist for University of Iowa Human Resources, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan.

According to the UI Human Resources Department, faculty employees at the university prefer working online to the in-person format that was standard before the pandemic. Hoffman cited lowered stress, increased satisfaction, and individual cost savings among other benefits.

“The Future of Work initiative and the piloting of alternative work arrangements are a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hoffman wrote. “The initiative seeks to reimagine how and where university employees work to gain a better understanding of the long-term viability for remote and hybrid work, flexible schedules, and other types of work arrangements. Though this specific type of work arrangement is new, flexible work arrangements at the university are not.”

RELATED: UI faculty add virtual learning strategies for in-person courses

Hoffman wrote that the hybrid model of working varies for different departments within the UI, and hybrid arrangements are worked out between employees and their supervisors.

Moving operations online can affect workers, as not every employee has reliable internet and technology, and older employees might have trouble adapting to a completely different way to work. According to Stanford News, it’s common for excessive amounts of video conferences to be stressful and exhausting in what they call ‘Zoom Fatigue’.

Systems Unlimited, a company that provides services to those with disabilities, employs over 1,000 individuals. Systems Unlimited is unable to go completely online because of the nature of their business, but has cut back in certain areas.

“As far as administrative or office work, there were a few of us who stayed in the office, but otherwise everyone switched over to remote work,” said Mona Kenyon-Dowiat, director of Human Resources at Systems Unlimited.

Systems Unlimited has been conducting hiring interviews and training over the phone and Zoom, and made their training videos available on YouTube. Kenyon-Dowiat said since this change, more people have participated in the online training sessions.

“Right now… at least 50 percent of the work week, people are expected to be in the office. It’s not at all as busy as it used to be,” Kenyon-Dowiat said.

Systems Unlimited has been unable to provide all the programs that they did pre-pandemic, and still cannot provide as COVID-19 cases have steadily risen since July.

Kenyon-Dowiat said, ultimately, Systems Unlimited’s goal is to return to mostly how it ran before the pandemic.

“Any gains that we were making to get back, we’ve had to step back a few paces, because of what’s happening with numbers,” Kenyon-Dowiat said.