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Mutual of Omaha launches study of facility needs in wake of COVID pandemic

Mutual of Omaha launches study of facility needs in wake of COVID pandemic

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The number of people hospitalized with COVID in Nebraska rose again last week as the state continued to record one of the highest COVID case rates in the nation.

Recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic has permanently altered how — and where — workers will perform their jobs in the future, Mutual of Omaha has launched a facility needs study that could reshape its headquarters operations in Omaha.

Mutual spokesman Jim Nolan said the company is in the beginning stages of figuring out its future workplace needs, with the expectation that its workforce will likely be a mix of people who work in offices, remotely from home and in a combination of the two.

As part of that process, the iconic Fortune 500 company has retained an interior design architect to advise it. Mutual also is surveying its managers to figure out their immediate and longer-term expectations for remote work.

The goal, Nolan said, is to create a workplace experience that accommodates the company’s headquarters operations but also embraces flexibility for workers.

Nolan emphasized that nothing about the size, shape or location of the future facilities has been decided. It could involve renovation of the current 33rd and Dodge headquarters complex, new construction on land it owns near the complex or new construction elsewhere in Omaha — the city from which the company takes its name.

“It’s just the beginning stages of some work to figure out what our future workplace needs are, given the reality that hybrid work is going to be continuing into the foreseeable future,” Nolan said.

Mutual CEO James Blackledge recommended a facilities study to the firm’s board of directors, and the board recently approved it. Mutual employees were informed of the planning process on Tuesday.

Mutual employs more than 5,000 workers nationally, including roughly 4,000 in the Omaha area.

Mutual certainly is not the only company reassessing its space and facilities needs in the wake of the pandemic. The remote work that became the norm under COVID-19 is expected to fundamentally change how companies operate in the future.

The business consultant McKinsey said in a 2020 report that companies were already planning to shift to more flexible workspaces after positive experiences with remote work during the pandemic. That is likely to mean fewer workers in the office, reducing the overall space that firms will require.

Blackledge has previously said he likes Mutual’s midtown location. In a 2018 interview, he said “it would take a lot” for him to agree to move the headquarters elsewhere in the city.

Mutual in April 2018 announced it had launched a facilities study that could lead to a new $200 million headquarters complex, most likely to be built near the current one. Blackledge had called it a once-in-a-generation opportunity to assess the company’s facilities needs.

But 17 months later, the company deferred a decision on the plan, saying it wanted to focus on other priorities, including upgraded technology and its fast-growing core insurance business.

The delay was likely fortuitous, because less than six months later, the pandemic hit home.

Mutual was among the first companies in Omaha to go fully remote after a worker in its headquarters became one of the first people in Omaha to test positive for the coronavirus.

Now almost two years later, employees have the option of working either in the office or remotely, with the vast majority at this time choosing the remote option. Nolan said that could change once the virus subsides and masking requirements are lifted.

Nolan said there is no timeline on the planning effort.


Omaha World-Herald: Afternoon Update

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Reporter - Metro News

Henry is a general assignment reporter, but his specialty is deep dives into state issues and public policy. He's also into the numbers behind a story, yet to meet a spreadsheet he didn't like. Follow him on Twitter @HenryCordes. Phone: 402-444-1130.

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