Hybrid Work Becomes the ‘New Normal’ for Flathead Tech Companies

As local businesses adopt hybrid remote work models popularized by the pandemic, other business leaders prefer the return of in-office structures

By Maggie Dresser
Henry Roberts, Vice President, Creative for The Zaneray Group, as seen in his home office in Whitefish on March 26, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In 2021 when David Mayer launched Endpoint Utility Corp, a small information technology (IT) contracting business that provides on-demand services, he adapted his company’s workflow model to the evolving remote work landscape that was magnified by the pandemic.

The company started with just a few Flathead-based employees in an office space in downtown Kalispell, but it has since grown to seven staff, including four who are local. The other three employees live in Chicago, Seattle and Las Vegas and work completely remote.

“It’s truly a hybrid company,” Mayer said. “We have four folks that live here and come in and out of the office on an as-needed basis.”

Mayer said the flexibility works well for his company and he doesn’t notice a change in productivity. It keeps his employees happy with the freedom to work from home while also providing the opportunity for them to come into the office if they need to collaborate or socialize. The hybrid model also expands the labor pool, allowing him to hire employees from all over the country.

“Certainly, we would love to have Montana employees servicing Montana customers, but the reality is there’s only so much labor pool to draw from … it lets the employer hire great talent if it’s not immediately available,” Mayer said.

During the pandemic, the number of nationwide remote workers tripled, with the U.S. Census Bureau estimating that 73,000 people in Montana worked from home in 2021 compared to 34,000 people in 2019.

Nationwide, figures fell 15% between 2021 and 2022 and in Montana the number of remote workers dropped to 69,000 people, despite the state’s population growth.

“I think the pandemic was transformative for how companies in the tech industry worked,” said Christina Henderson, executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. “During the pandemic, companies were pressed to go fully remote and for tech companies, that was doable.”

But even as pandemic protocols fade, Henderson said the culture surrounding office work has changed.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, about 13% of Montana’s labor force worked remote most of the time, which dropped slightly in 2022.

In an annual Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes, 30% of people nationwide said they split their time between home and the office.

Henderson said both employers and employees are finding benefits in the hybrid model, which allows them to build relationships with their peers and managers, without sacrificing the luxury of only commuting a few days per week or banking additional time for family responsibilities.

For GL Solutions CEO Bill Moseley, who relocated his software company from Bend, Oregon to Kalispell in 2021, remote work resulted in a 30% drop in productivity. He requires almost all of his employees to be in the office, with the exception of four longtime staff who could not relocate their families from the West Coast. There’s also some limited flexibility for employees who have childcare or healthcare needs.

Moseley said training new employees remotely when they required more collaboration was especially difficult during the height of the pandemic. In the last six months, he has filled 35 spots, bringing his staff to 80 people.

“They like working with their friends and just having that social connection,” Moseley said. “If you’re managing or working with other people, sometimes it’s really hard to understand what they are saying if they’re working remote, and it can actually make your job harder.”

While many companies have shifted back to in-office work, Henderson said the pandemic-induced remote work era has changed expectations.

“We see many more job posts for remote work options and more flexibility around where people work – we are not seeing a decline in that,” Henderson said. “On the job-seeker side, there’s a greater expectation or desire to have remote options.”

Despite job postings that explicitly describe in-office only positions at GL Solutions, Moseley continues to see about a quarter of applicants who only want remote work. Some even go through two rounds of interviews before they decline job offers when they learn the work model is non-negotiable.

“Post pandemic, we see a reset of the expectations and norms,” Henderson said. “Hybrid is kind of the new normal – companies have changed their requirements of employees and there are much more flexible policies and remote work happening.”

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