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Can working from home mean working outside of Florida?

The pandemic has led some Tampa Bay workplaces to rethink hiring and staffing employees far from the home office.
Kris Halligan, pictured in her home office north of San Francisco, is the new sales director for digital marketing firm PowerChord in St. Petersburg. She was hired during the coronavirus pandemic and is not planning to relocate east, instead working remotely from California.
Kris Halligan, pictured in her home office north of San Francisco, is the new sales director for digital marketing firm PowerChord in St. Petersburg. She was hired during the coronavirus pandemic and is not planning to relocate east, instead working remotely from California. [ Kris Halligan ]
Published Mar. 26
Updated Mar. 26

Tabitha Vongsackda had been in Florida a decade when she decided it was time for a change of scenery. She chose San Diego, where she had friends and family, and was prepared to leave her job as a payroll specialist for the city of Largo to make it happen.

At the time, the city was implementing a new human resources software system. Vongsackda was deemed invaluable to the process. So rather than let her go, the city kept her on, working remotely from California.

This all happened around March 2020, right when the coronavirus pandemic shut down most offices. Vongsackda is still with Largo today.

“Without the pandemic, I don’t think the city would have considered it,” she said. “With my knowledge of payroll, they made that exception for me.”

Read more: These Tampa Bay businesses prioritized staff’s mental health

A number of Top Workplaces in our survey, including the city of Largo, said they were considering new approaches to recruiting, hiring and remote work post-pandemic, including opening doors to employees living outside Tampa Bay.

“We never would have done that before. Never,” said Susan Sinz, Largo’s director of human resources. “It was all about being able to live in the land of, ‘How do we make this happen?’ Because it’s the most cost-effective and efficient set of decisions we could make.”

For some companies, keeping top, trusted talent is worth the investment. St. Petersburg accounting firm Spoor Bunch Franz has employees who followed significant others to new jobs out of state. The company set both up with three-screen home offices, and is proactive in keeping them engaged on Zoom and other digital platforms.

“We’re trying to do what is best for our people,” said partner Rich Franz. “They are both very engaged self-starters, and we saw that they worked hard to keep that engagement with their coworkers. Could it work for everyone? Probably not. But the two that we have it set up for, it’s worked well.”

From her home office in Silver Spring, Md., Nadia Demiscan Charles said Spoor Bunch Franz’s flexibility meant she didn’t have to choose between her career and her family — something that, not so long ago, many employers might not have considered.

Read more: Here are all the Top 100 Tampa Bay Workplaces of 2021

“It has to come from the top,” said Charles, 35. “It’s nice that SBF trusts me and they believe in us, and at the same time, they make me still feel like I’m part of the company, trying to involve me in everything.”

Nadia Demiscan Charles, who works for Spoor Bunch Franz, a tax firm in St. Petersburg, is pictured during a Zoom call from her home office in Silver Spring, Md.
Nadia Demiscan Charles, who works for Spoor Bunch Franz, a tax firm in St. Petersburg, is pictured during a Zoom call from her home office in Silver Spring, Md. [ Screengrab via Zoom ]

Geographical flexibility could have a particular impact on military families, which can move around a lot. Alexia Pappas could have left Spoor Bunch Franz when her boyfriend was transferred from MacDill Air Force Base to a job in Knoxville, Tenn. Instead, she made a case that the company would be better off keeping her than losing her, and his move shouldn’t be held against her.

“With this type of job, it’s really important to stay with the company, and to build your client base and build your reputation. It doesn’t really look great for someone to be hopping around, firm to firm,” said Pappas, 27, a senior tax associate. “This is going to be huge for military spouses and anyone who has a spouse whose job requires them to move around a lot. This is opening the door for them to stay with the same firms, which is a total game-changer.”

Keeping valued employees happy isn’t the only benefit. Companies can rethink recruiting practices, as Spoor Bunch Franz did recently when hiring nationally for an international tax position. Over the course of the pandemic, St. Petersburg digital marketing firm PowerChord has hired at least a half-dozen workers in other states — two of whom have relocated, and others who have stayed in North Carolina, Texas and California.

“Having that talent pool around the entire country has been really helpful for us,” said Blake Cargill, PowerChord’s people and culture coordinator.

Read more: How a hands-on Tampa Bay real estate broker went virtual

Kris Halligan was hired as PowerChord’s new sales director last fall, working from her home north of San Francisco. The office she shares with her golden lab Phoebe is now PowerChord’s de facto West Coast hub, which will come in handy when trade shows and other gatherings resume.

“When we do go back in the real world, meeting people and prospects in their office, that it’s a quicker drive or flight for me than someone coming all the way from St. Pete,” said Halligan, 55.

It could also benefit PowerChord’s expenses. With so many of its 80 employees enjoying working from home, the company may look to scale down its real estate footprint, Cargill said, focusing on a smaller, more collaborative workspace than a traditional office.

But it’s not like the home base will go away forever. Not long ago, PowerChord brought Halligan and other remote employees to St. Pete to meet their teams and co-workers in person.

“That’s invaluable,” she said. “To have the willingness that PowerChord has to bring us all together, even in a pandemic, is something I’m really grateful for. Work-from-home is great, but there comes a time when, from a relationship-building point of view, building trust, it’s wonderful to have that in-person meetup.”