Sonoma County employers grapple with work contingencies during coronavirus pandemic
The altered workplace in the era of coronavirus was evident in a meeting room Thursday at Redwood Credit Union in Santa Rosa.
Inside, a group of employees were testing the Microsoft online video platform for virtual meetings with Matthew Metzger, Redwood's technology solutions manager, on his laptop at home.
“You do it once, you get pretty good at it. Getting everyone to do it for the first time, you need to plan a longer meeting,” said John Wheatley, vice president of insurance services.
Wheatley soon found out firsthand as he logged in with his smartphone and triggered major feedback in the room before adjusting his microphone volume level.
The drill became more common last week as the 700-employee credit union had two workers from each department work from home effective March 9, in case the growing public health crisis gets much worse. More waves of Redwood employees - those who don't serve customers at 19 regional branches - are slated to start working remotely this week.
“This is day to day,”' said Brett Martinez, Redwood's chief executive officer, who has been coordinating contingency staffing and operational plans for more than three weeks with an outside consultant.
The extensive emergency preparation is something Redwood has gone through previously after the 2017 Tubbs fire came perilously close to its Cleveland Avenue headquarters and last year during the workplace disruptions caused by the Kincade fire and PG&E's intentional power cuts.
But this global pandemic, which is rapidly spreading throughout the United States, presents a much different set of challenge for the credit union.
“This is significantly different in many, many ways,” Martinez said, noting the uncertain length of time the crisis could linger and the possible financial toll on customers if the virus indeed spreads through the community. “It's way more complicated.”
Redwood is among North Bay employers scrambling and adjusting to protect employees and customers from a potential local coronavirus outbreak and still continue to operate. The issue is especially complicated in Sonoma County since the region is deeply reliant on tourism, with 7.5 million visitors annually, and 1 out of 10 jobs depends on the sector to some extent. The local economy is not comprised primarily of office workers who can log in from home like tech firms in San Francisco, but rather a wide array of servers, bartenders, tour guides and hotel workers who earn money when they work at their establishments.
Taking steps against outbreak
Besides implementing work-at-home arrangements when possible, many area employers already have halted indefinitely nonessential business travel. Workers with flu-like symptoms have been asked to stay home. Efforts have started to do more thorough cleaning at county taprooms, wine-tasting rooms and offices. Other new policies were expected to come depending on the local severity of coronavirus cases and the scope of a potential outbreak.
At Community Market, employees have been instructed to wash their hands with soap every 30 minutes and gloves are available for workers, not just food preparation staff who are required to wear them, said Melissa Minton, general manager.
“First and foremost, we try to educate staff about how to take of themselves as they face many people,” Minton said.
The stores in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol combined have about 1,250 customers daily, and staff has seen a run on hand sanitizer and homeopathic treatments, especially mushroom immunity boosters.
Jackson Family Wines in Santa Rosa has issued new policies. Among them: employee attendance at external business meetings with 50 or more people have been canceled. Internal meetings with more than 25 people either will be postponed or held virtually, company spokeswoman Galen McCorkle said.
One of the largest private employers and tourist attractions in Sonoma County, Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park, was still operating as usual as of Friday, but monitoring the fluid situation. The casino employs 2,000 and attracts many visitors from all over the Bay Area, many of whom arrive by the busload. But pressure was mounting late last week on top tourist spots as county health officials issued an order banning all gatherings of 250 or more until further notice. It was unclear Friday night how or if the casino would be affected by the public health order.
“Graton Resort & Casino is committed to protecting the safety and well-being of our guests and team members. We're monitoring the situation around COVID-19 closely and are staying fully updated on CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines to manage the situation,” general manager Lana Rivera said in a Thursday statement. “We also remain in regular contact with Sonoma County authorities and we're prepared to pursue all appropriate action as needed.”