Many downtown W-B employees continue working remotely

i Jun 18th 2020

By Denise Allabaugh, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice

Working from home is still strongly encouraged under Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan and that’s what many office workers in downtown Wilkes-Barre will continue to do after Luzerne County enters the green phase Friday.

Most Highmark non-clinical employees will keep working from home through at least Labor Day, said Highmark spokesman Anthony Matrisciano.

Berkshire Hathaway GUARD insurance Companies’ employees also continue to work remotely, except for a few essential staff, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Hartman.

“We have found that our employees are able to work remotely with the efficiency required to maintain service levels for our agents, policyholders and claimants,” Hartman said.

She said Berkshire Hathaway GUARD is taking a “gradual and cautious approach to returning to the office.”

“As of now, our plan is to have any employees who are comfortable to start returning to the office on Monday, June 29.” she said.

When employees return, Hartman said they will see some changes.

“Our offices have been completely cleaned and we will continue a daily cleaning regimen for high contact surfaces,” she said. “Additionally, we will regulate the flow of traffic into our buildings and all employees entering the building will have their temperature taken. “

Hartman said they also will continue social distancing measures and keep common areas, such as lunch rooms closed for now, following recommended guidelines.

Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership, said most of downtown Wilkes-Barre’s major office employers are continuing remote work protocols for the time being. In addition to GUARD and Highmark, he has heard similar plans from AllOne, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, DEP, Chubb and Riggs Asset Management.

“I think that many of them are waiting to see how the rest of June plays out,” Newman said.

Smaller offices, however, have begun to return to work including many of downtown Wilkes-Barre’s lawyers like Vinsko & Associates at 37 N. River St.

Attorney Bill Vinsko said they have been looking to maintain a safe environment but have their clients feel comfortable too.

His office has several conference rooms so he said no client has to sit in a waiting room. As soon as clients come in, they are taken right to a conference room to see an attorney.

“Each conference room is spacious enough to permit social distancing on either side and across the table,” Vinsko said.

For real estate closings, Vinsko said they are scheduling buyers and sellers at different times so no one feels rushed and there is less personal interaction.

“The conference rooms are cleaned and disinfected between each client visit,” he said. “We have arranged for all conference rooms to have cameras and large video screens to allow our clients to sit comfortably during virtual court hearings and still be active in the proceedings.”

On Public Square, the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Wilkes-Barre partially reopened their offices. The chamber has split its staff in two. Half of them work in the office three days a week while the other half are coming to the office on the alternating days.

Luzerne County has implemented a slow reopening plan. Luzerne County manager David Pedri said security and social distancing protocols, such as mandated masks, limiting people in each department and increased cleaning will continue after Luzerne County goes green Friday.

County officials are checking each visitor’s temperatures but Pedri said that will stop next week and they will continue with other protocols until July 6.

Jennifer Ciarimboli, founder and CEO of studio Be in the accelerator building at 16 S. River St. in Wilkes-Barre, said she and her employees will continue working remotely through September. Studio Be provides training and programs aimed at making employees happier and their workplace more productive.

Many companies have been reaching out to studio Be for guidance about assisting employees returning to work and others who are still working from home.

Returning to work can be a difficult transition for many people and her advice to business owners is to “try to still be flexible and supportive especially with working parents.”

Ciarimboli suggests a three-pronged approach for people returning to work and getting their lives back together after the coronavirus pandemic.

First, they should figure out how they feel about what happened. Secondly, they should determine what steps they need to take to recover from the crisis. Third, she said they develop a map to move forward. That could mean reaching out to a therapist or other resources for help, practicing meditation or yoga, going out for hikes or runs and getting reconnected with people, she said.

Contact the writer:


570-821-2115, @CVAllabaugh