For Many Colorado Businesses, Work From Home Is Nothing New

Coronavirus Colfax and Hwy 40 From Bennet top the Buffalo Herd Overlook
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Davies Chuck Wagon Diner in Lakewood is closed. The morning after Gov. Jared Polis advised people to stay home, Colfax Avenue from Bennet on up into the mountains where it becomes Hwy 40, was a ghost of its normal self — although some facets of life carried on as usual, Monday, March 23, 2020.

Many Colorado companies were out ahead of the recent directive from Gov. Jared Polis ordering businesses to reduce the number of people physically present in the workplace by 50 percent.

Businesses have been pushing employees to work-from-home and running offices statewide with skeleton crews for a week or more. Management and staff at most firms – from Fortune 500 giants to mom-and-pop eateries – are already becoming accustomed to the new reality brought on by the spread of the new coronavirus, Kelly Brough, the president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said.  

“All of us know what we need to do to be safe, and we’ve all been doing it,” she said.

Restrictions on bars, restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and other entertainment venues have been in place for over a week.

Polis said he expects businesses to comply with the mandate by Tuesday, unless they are able to keep people at least six feet apart on-site. On Monday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock placed more stringent limits on his city’s residents and ordered people to stay at home unless they need groceries or medical supplies and medications.

So far, many of Colorado’s large companies with a relatively mobile workforce have been able to navigate the rapidly shifting landscape. According to the latest Census numbers, 9 percent of Coloradans already work from home, the highest rate in the nation by far.

Google, which opened a Colorado outpost in Boulder in 2017, says the company is limiting access to its buildings there, and that only employees whose roles have been deemed essential to business will be given access to the facilities. The campus was operating under work-from-home guidance prior to the most recent directive from Polis, according to the company.

At Arrow Electronics, the largest publicly traded company in the state, the firm “supports alternative work arrangements if the job can be reasonably performed away from the office,” John Hourigan, vice president of global communications for the Centennial, Colorado-based company, wrote in a statement.  “Arrow was essentially already in compliance before (Polis’) directive.”  

Comcast, the cable giant that employs 10,000 people in Colorado, said the story is similar.

“Even before Governor Polis’ order, the decisive actions we’ve taken to implement virtual work options for the majority of our employees are enabling us to keep our employees safe,” said Leslie Oliver, a spokeswoman for Comcast said in an emailed statement. “We will continue to work with local, state and federal authorities to protect the safety and health of our employees and customers.”

Employees at Western Union’s Denver headquarters have been working from home since last week, a company spokeswoman said in an email. 

While some companies are able to respond to the changing conditions, the economic impact of effectively shutting down large sectors of the economy rippled through the state this week.

Unemployment claims surged to unprecedented levels, with the service sector bearing the brunt of the impact. About 25,000 unemployment claims have been filed in Colorado this week. Polis has pointed to economics so far as the reason for resisting placing the entire state under a shelter-in-place order.

The governor, while supportive of efforts by Hancock and other local officials, said during a press conference last week that he is wary of placing too much strain on the economy. Governors in California, New York and Illinois have all directed residents to stay home.

Still, it seems to be more of a distinction without a difference as workers and families hunker down at home.

“To some degree, it may be semantics,” said Brough of the Denver Chamber of Commerce. “What he’s pointing out is making sure in the places you really do have to be together, you’re reducing your numbers. To us, it feels like a good important step to remind everybody to do everything you can right now to slow the spread.”