2 weeks ago

Huntsville near top of work from home report for good reasons, professor says

Huntsville is the No. 2 midsize metro nationwide that’s most prepared to work from home, according to a report by Filterbuy.com, and the city’s connectivity, workforce and job mix have a lot to do with that, says an associate professor of management at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

“Huntsville is a booming community and some of the jobs that are here – and that continue to come here – lend themselves well to working from home,” says Dr. William “Ivey” Mackenzie, a faculty member at the College of Business at UAH, a part of the University of Alabama System.

Huntsville’s high standard of living boosts its adaptability to working from home and has made such a transition easier for the community in general during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People here are more likely to have access to home computers, have home offices or extra space to set up a place to work in their homes,” Dr. Mackenzie says.

“We also benefit from access to relatively inexpensive fiber internet access,” he says. “Obviously this isn’t the case for everyone, especially if there are security issues, but many workers are benefiting from the types of jobs we see in Huntsville.”

The evolution of the Huntsville area’s economy has put many workers in the right place to be location flexible.

“The type of worker who is able to work from home is typically more educated or works in a knowledge-based industry,” Dr. Mackenzie says.

“Many knowledge workers already had deliverables before COVID that could not be directly measured, which would be another reason this group is virtual,” he says. “We still see lots of workers in traditional onsite work contexts, but the attitudes towards COVID-19 early in the pandemic pushed many companies to go remote.”

The pandemic was the change catalyst, and companies like Zoom and Skype were the facilitators, but the tangible and intangible benefits for companies are now gradually being realized. They include reduced infrastructure needed to support onsite workers and greater flexibility in work hours, as well as fewer travel expenses for meetings.

If the wane of the pandemic still finds a strong Huntsville work from home corporate culture, he says the community will definitely be impacted by changes to infrastructure needs.

“Commute times will decrease. Areas like Hampton Cove will see more development to serve workers looking for a quick bite to eat for lunch, while restaurants that were struggling in the heart of the city might not see their customer base return to pre-COVID levels,” Dr. Mackenzie says.

“Some communities will see workers move further away in search of affordable housing,” he says. “Huntsville benefits from a relatively low cost of living, so while we might not see a decrease in residents, we may find more people wanting to live in our area because they can work remotely.”

Area businesses facilities will be smaller if more employees are regularly working from home, and the layout of offices will change, he says. Shared office space will increase to house remote workers on days when they work onsite.

Company travel could change, too.

“Employee travel is often a desirable perk, so while companies may see reduced travel costs in the future, my guess is many employees will want to travel to desirable locations but the less desirable destinations will probably see an increase of remote meetings,” Dr. Mackenzie says.

More virtual meetings could unlock greater employee productivity because workers aren’t physically moving from one meeting to another, and there could be declines in absenteeism when working from home is an option. As well, having a system that allows employees to work from home allows employers to continue operations during emergency or unforeseen circumstances like bad weather.

Employees gain a more positive work/life balance but that would be tempered by uneven access to remote technologies across all employees and the need for certain jobs to be performed onsite.

“Many workers gain hours of additional time each week by eliminating their commute,” Dr. Mackenzie says. “Pets are the clear winners of the pandemic.”

He says he’s also read many anecdotes from workers about being able to eat better and get more activity because they have been able to adopt a healthier lifestyle while working from home. For those with families, it’s great to be able to work from home if a child needs to be home that day.

On the other hand, lack of access to the internet and technology can create a second class of workers in companies that could create legal issues for employers. Remote workers may also get left behind for raises and advancement.

“They miss out on the day-to-day exchange of information, and being offsite could negatively impact them when it comes to promotion opportunities,” Dr. Mackenzie says. “I mentioned pets and children earlier, but they can also be distracting for workers, and young children at home can negatively impact productivity.”

No longer having a commute to unplug from work also could make it harder to disconnect and transition to personal life.

“There also becomes an expectation that employees are always available when they work from home,” he says.

For employers, disadvantages include weaker worker connections to the company and the difficulty of finding and retaining workers under certain circumstances.

“Culture is a very important asset for successful businesses,” Dr. Mackenzie says. “If employees are unable to interact with one another in meaningful ways, it can really disrupt the organization’s culture.”

That could impact employee turnover, performance and other important employee outcomes of interest. Employee connectivity is so important that companies have studied how to encourage it.

“There are companies that have studied their onsite cafeteria waiting lines to make certain they are long enough to promote employee interactions,” he says. “A quick, spontaneous conversation in the hallway has tremendous value for some organizations.”

Companies that require employees to work onsite while competitors are having employees work remotely could see negative impacts to their ability to recruit and retain workers.

Still, Dr. Mackenzie says the benefits of a home-based workforce may result in substantial numbers of Huntsville’s knowledge-based workers logging in from home long after the pandemic has waned.

“The big catalyst for change would be necessity, but as people become accustomed to working from home, companies recognize this is a desirable benefit for recruiting and retaining talent,” he says. “My guess is that we will see employers becoming more open to working from home.”

(Courtesy of UAH)

4 hours ago

Alabama basketball completes the sweep against Auburn

Fresh off of winning the SEC regular season championship for the first time in 19 years, the Alabama Crimson Tide on Tuesday completed a sweep of Auburn for the first time in six years after defeating the Tigers at home 70-58.

Jayden Shackelford led the way for Alabama in Tuscaloosa, as the talented sophomore guard went 5-9 from behind the arc to finish with 23 total points in the win over Auburn.

Sophomore Jahvon Quinerly scored 11 points off of the bench and provided sparks for Alabama in crucial moments of the game.

While Alabama led by as much as 16 points in the first half, Auburn was able to cut the lead to five in the second. However, Alabama’s defense began to stiffen up, and seniors Herbert Jones and John Petty stalled the Tiger’s offense out before they could get too hot.


For the Tide, the three-ball has become a major part of their offense. Second-year head coach Nate Oats always tells his players to get at least one touch in the paint first before shooting. This green-light mentality is becoming more and more popular throughout college hoops.

Bama has done really well with this philosophy by becoming one of the most dominant teams from downtown in the conference. Tuesday’s game showed that even when the three doesn’t come through for the Tide, they have other ways of scoring.

Alabama drove the basketball extremely well in the second half against Auburn and proved to be the more physical team in their win on Tuesday night. When tournament time begins, they may have to lean on this more physical style of play in certain games.

The Tide have one more regular season game against Georgia in Athens on Saturday. Bama will look to finish the regular season on a win before the SEC Tournament in Nashville gets underway.

The Tide are currently projected to be a two seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Hayden Crigler is a contributing college football and college basketball writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him through email: hayden@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter: @hayden_crigler.

4 hours ago

Alabama House recap: Bills to increase executive branch oversight, update sex ed language pass chamber

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama House of Representatives met Tuesday and passed six pieces of legislation, including bills that would increase oversight of executive branch agencies and update language in the state’s policy on sex education.

After convening shortly after 1:00 p.m. the chamber spent much of the next five hours in extended debate on two bills, with members of the Democratic Party engaging in protracted discussions of legislation they began their remarks saying they would ultimately vote for.

Seeing the most debate were HB 392 from Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) and HB 103 from Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville).

Jones’ bill creates a joint legislative committee to oversee large financial agreements made by the executive branch, and Kiel’s would prevent the state government from picking which businesses close during states of emergency.


More information on Kiel’s bill is available here.

The legislation from Jones, chair of the powerful Rules Committee, would create the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Obligation Transparency. The committee would have the authority to approve or disapprove of contracts, leases and agreements by the executive branch and the agencies therein.

Under the proposed law the committee would meet to review any financial agreement greater than $10 million or 5% of the agency’s annual appropriation from the State General Fund.

Making up the committee would be the chair, vice-chair and ranking minority members of the committees in each legislative chamber that oversee taxation.

The proposed oversight committee would be able to meet when the legislature is in or out of session. It would have to issue approval or disapproval within 45 days of a state agency submitting a proposed contract.

If the proposed committee disapproved of a contract it would be delayed from going into effect until the end of the current or next occurring general session of the legislature.

Jones noted in remarks on the floor that this delay would give lawmakers time to address via legislation the proposal disapproved of by the committee, and added that new legislation would be required to put a halt to any state contract of which the proposed committee disapproved.

HB 392 ultimately received unanimous support in the House, with a final vote of 98-0.

Also passing the House on Tuesday was HB 385 sponsored by Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville). The bill updates language in the legal code that governs how Alabama educators must teach sex ed.

It also deletes from the Code of Alabama language that requires those teaching sex ed to emphasize that “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.”

Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) and Rep. Charlotte Meadows (R-Montgomery), two staunch conservatives with backgrounds in education policy, spoke in favor of the legislation on the House floor and voted for its passage. The bill passed the House on a vote of 69-30.

Three other pieces of lower profile legislation passed the chamber on Tuesday:

HB 255 from Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Cullman) that would add a tenth member to the advisory board of directors of the Department of Senior Services, and let ex officio members name a designee to serve in their place.

HB 330 from Rep. Alan Baker (R-Brewton) that would change the outdated language in the state legal code concerning video depositions in criminal prosecutions.

HB 136 from Rep. Chip Brown (R-Hollinger’s Island) that would designate the aquarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab as the Official Aquarium of Alabama.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

8 hours ago

Alabama House passes bill that would block the government from picking and choosing which establishments close during states of emergency

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would prevent the state government from designating which types of businesses were allowed to stay open in situations such as the one experienced during the advent of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Sponsored by Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville), HB103 would not infringe on the governor or state health officer’s ability to implement public health guidance. It would only say that any business or house of worship that followed public health guidelines would be allowed to open.

“I think if it is safe enough to go to the liquor store and wear a mask and socially distance, then it is safe enough to go to church and wear a mask and socially distance,” argued Kiehl on the House floor.


The vote on the floor was 75 in favor and 22 opposed with three members abstaining.

The bill applies to declared states of emergency that involve a “pandemic, epidemic, bioterrorism event, or the appearance of a novel or previously controlled or eradicated infectious disease or biological toxin,” per the text of the legislation.

In explaining what inspired him to author the legislation, Kieh said of last spring, “I saw businesses in my town that were suffering,” adding that some small business owners he knew were “scared to death they were going to lose their livelihoods.”

Governor Ivey’s “Stay At Home” order, in place for most of April 2020, allowed major retailers like Walmart to remain open while smaller retail stores that did not sell groceries were forced to close.

Kiehl feels that this arrangement was unfair, and that small shops and establishments deserved the chance to stay open if able to implement the health guidelines. Ivey has expressed regret in recent months about creating the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” businesses.

“[W]hat we were really doing is were we driving all the customers that would have been in all these other stores — in the small mom-and-pops, the Hibbetts of the world — we were driving all those to one central location to buy clothing. That cannot be good for the spread of the pandemic — to bring everybody together in one location or a few locations,” Kiel told FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show.”

The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) is strongly supporting the passage of the legislation.

Kiel’s bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

9 hours ago

Alabama Senate passes Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act

MONTGOMERY — On a party line vote, the Alabama Senate on Tuesday passed SB 10, the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act.

Sponsored by Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville), the bill would ban the performance of medical procedures and the prescription of puberty-blocking medications and sex-change hormones used as transgender therapies for minors, with certain exceptions.

The vote was 23-4, with the only four Democrats present all dissenting: Sens. Billy Beasley (D-Clayton), Vivian Figures (D-Mobile), Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham).

Shelnutt, since first introducing a version of the legislation last year, has said his goal in bringing the bill was to simply protect children from making harmful longterm decisions that they may later regret once more mature.


“The primary concern here is the health and well-being of Alabama’s children,” stated Shelnutt. “We must protect vulnerable minors who do not have the mental capacity to make life-altering decisions of this caliber. The efficacy and effects of these particular surgeries and methods of treatment are not well-sustained by medical evidence, and actions of this severity cannot be undone.”

“I believe it is our responsibility as lawmakers to do all we can to keep our children out of harm’s way,” he added. “Protecting minors from these powerful drugs and consequential procedures will help ensure they do not feel responsible to make a decision they may wish to later undo, ultimately causing more harm.”

The House Judiciary Committee last week approved as amended the lower chamber’s companion version of the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy). HB 1 now awaits consideration on the House floor.

In response to the passage of SB 10, Scott McCoy — SPLC interim deputy director for LGBTQ Rights & Special Litigation — released a statement.

“The Alabama State Senate is dangerously close to passing yet another piece of discriminatory legislation that likely will lead to long and expensive litigation at high cost to Alabama taxpayers,” McCoy decried.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

10 hours ago

Alabama GOP Senate candidate Lynda Blanchard: 2020 election ‘stolen from President Trump’

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Lynda Blanchard on Tuesday called upon the Alabama House Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections Committee to vote down a bill that would legalize no-excuse absentee voting in the state, among other alterations of Alabama’s elections laws.

The committee is set to meet on Wednesday regarding HB 396, which is sponsored by State Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville). The bill was originally backed by Secretary of State John Merrill, although he has now withdrawn his support for the measure.

Blanchard served in the administration of President Donald J. Trump as his ambassador to Slovenia, the home country of then-First Lady Melania Trump.

The Montgomery resident is Alabama’s only declared U.S. Senate candidate ahead of the 2022 race to replace retiring U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL). Blanchard in a written statement said HB 396 significantly weakens Alabama’s absentee balloting rules.


“Absentee balloting invites corruption, cheating, and fraud, so it should be allowed only in rare and unavoidable cases,” she said. “The bill that has been introduced in the Legislature leaves the door wide open for ballot harvesting and other abuses that allowed the recent presidential election to be stolen from President Trump.”

“The bill also begins a dangerous process of watering down Alabama’s election laws, which could lead to the repeal of our photo voter ID requirements and other safeguards that Republicans have put in place,” Blanchard continued.

She concluded, “Alabama should focus on strengthening, not weakening, our honest election reforms, and we certainly shouldn’t implement no-excuse absentee voting, which is often used by liberal Democrats who have refined election fraud and ballot stuffing into an art form.”

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) and Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) have already voiced opposition to HB 396.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn