As the state transitions into reopening and the economy begins to crawl back from the collapse of COVID-19, leaders of some of Iowa’s largest companies are working to find the balance between resuming normal activity and keeping their employees and customers safe.

Part of that discussion includes what the future will look like as employees, who have been working remotely for the past two months, begin transitioning back to the office, or whether many will stay at home, leaders of Vermeer Corp., Fareway Stores Inc., Ruan Transportation and Wells Fargo & Co. said.

Companies, from small businesses to the state’s largest corporations, have begun the process of reopening after restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus expired this month.

For each company, the decisions they make are as different as the products they produce or the services they provide. But they’re also very much the same as they revolve around the central concern of safety.

“Our goal has been first and foremost, keep our people as safe as possible,” said Ben McLean, CEO of Ruan Transportation.

That hasn’t changed because of the pandemic; it’s only created new challenges, McLean said. 

“So when we talk about our guiding principles, we begin with people and safety, and it also includes an unrelenting commitment to delivering for our customers,” McLean said. “So the pandemic that we’ve been dealing with has confronted us with new health and safety considerations.”

Ruan shifted about 1,000 employees who worked in an office, including about 400 in Des Moines, to working from home, but has been able to keep its drivers on the road. 

He said that as businesses closed, Ruan shifted deliveries from those companies to deliver to customers – such as grocery stores and hospitals – that stayed open, were deemed essential and saw an increase in demand.

While drivers will begin to resume deliveries to companies as they open, Ruan, which has 300 operations around the country, is evaluating when it will be safe to bring employees back to the office, McLean said.

“We will continue the protocols that we put in place around safety, knowing we’re no longer in an environment where anyone should ever show up to work and power through an illness. I think we’ve realized that’s behind us, and it should be,” McLean said.

He said the company is monitoring state and national health reports as it considers bringing employees back to the office.

“We want to see cases declining. We want to have good testing in place. We want to have good  monitoring systems in place … so we can understand whether there’s an elevated risk. I think that’s important, whether it’s Des Moines or any other cities in which we’re operating,” McLean said.

Ruan will also consider that employees have been effective and productive working from home, which may change the workplace dynamic moving forward.

“Folks have done pretty well with the technology we have, and the ability to connect and communicate and get their work done,” McLean said. “We’ve found that our ability to be successful remotely has maybe exceeded our expectations.”

He said that remote working will remain an option, but that some employees are looking forward to returning to the office.

“I don’t think you’ll see us with a brand-new approach to working from home through this. I think you’ll see us push the envelope in how we think about process change,” McLean said. “This crisis forced us to change processes very rapidly, to create improvements, to simplify some things. That will likely be the most enduring piece of what we’ve seen here, that we can 
change things rapidly and institute improvements in ways we didn’t think were possible in the past.”

More discussions about reopening with Central Iowa CEOs will appear in the June 5 edition of the Business Record.