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Staff File Photo by Robin Rudd / Unum's corporate headquarters is located in downtown Chattanooga. The insurer employs nearly 3,000 people in the city.

Unum, Chattanooga's biggest company, plans to offer most employees a hybrid schedule after Labor Day with many going to the office at least three days a week while working up to two days remotely.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Valley Authority, which like Unum had nearly 3,000 workers in downtown Chattanooga before the pandemic, is keeping most of its office staff working remotely until after Labor Day, according to the federal utility.

But Chattanooga's biggest downtown private employer, insurer BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, plans to begin a phased return to work at its Cameron Hill headquarters after the July 4th weekend, the company said.

Still, about two thirds of the company's 5,500 Chattanooga workers will remain teleworking from home most of the time as the health insurer shifts more jobs to remote work following the pandemic.

"We are doing a staged approach to our return, starting July 6, with a return to office one day a week," said Dayla Qualls, director of communications for BlueCross. "We've seen that our employees can do their jobs from home incredibly well, maintaining productivity and our high standard of service.

At Fortune 500 insurer Unum, about 20% of employees go to the office now, said Natalie Godwin, assistant vice president of external communications.

Prior to returning more employees to its U.S. offices, Unum officials plan to review its protocols along with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local regulations, Godwin said.

She said that enhancements already made such as touchless door openings, online food ordering and an upgraded air filtration system will remain in place moving ahead.

At TVA, where its Chattanooga Office Complex is the power headquarters for the federal utility, there are still concerns some workers have with child care and health and safety issues, said spokeswoman Malinda Hunter.

She said that "unless we decide to extend it further, that date (in early September) will be the date when we should start to see people come back to the office in Chattanooga."

At BlueCross, Qualls said the insurer's customer service scores, measured using the net promoter score methodology, increased by around seven points from March 2020 through May 2021.

"Over the last several months, we've gathered input from employees, managers and leadership across the company, and we've categorized our job roles as either FlexHome or FlexOffice," she said. "Through these categories, BlueCross FlexWork ties the nature of work to the location in which it's performed."

Qualls said that FlexHome job roles, such as customer service and claims processing positions, typically do not require an on-site presence to be performed well. Employees in this category will primarily work from home but may work from the office occasionally as needed or required, Qualls said.

FlexOffice job roles do require an on-site presence to be performed optimally, sometimes because of equipment needs or regulatory requirements, and sometimes because they are best executed with in-person collaboration, she said. Employees in this category will work from the office as many as five days per week with the option to work from home up to two days per week, with manager approval, Qualls said.

According to the downtown nonprofit redevelopment group River City Co., many local companies are waiting for the close of this school year as they make decisions about bringing back employees.

"We've had quite a few conversations with local companies," said Dawn Hjelseth, vice president of marketing and communication at River City Co. "They're waiting for school to end."

Many children have different school schedules, including virtual instruction, and employers want to make sure that classes are done before asking workers to return, she said.

Hjelseth said she expects a lot of workers will return in the summer.

"A lot of companies are working on their own timelines," she said. "We're encouraging people to start considering bringing back employees and doing it safely."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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