The headquarters of Santa Barbara, California, software company Invoca have been empty since March. But unbeknownst to the staff, the office was buzzing with activity. Specifically, with bees.

While Invoca's 210 employees were working from home amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a colony of honey bees was busy building a nest inside the walls of the three-story building the company rents on State Street in Santa Barbara. By the time the bees were discovered this month, they numbered 20,000. "We've talked a lot about the challenges of coming back to the office," says Gregg Johnson, the company's CEO. "We have not thought about this one." Founded in 2008, Invoca is a four-time Inc. 5000 honoree and a three-timeInc. Best Workplaces honoree. "I would have never in a million years, in my wildest dreams, imagined this would be a facilities problem we would run into," Johnson says.

Susan Arango, an Invoca workplace experience manager, had first noticed the critters when she went to the office in late April to check up after a windstorm. She saw dead bees in a hallway near the rear entrance and assumed they'd been blown inside somehow. But when she returned about a week later, there were more bees. It seemed odd, yet with no live bees in sight and with all the employees in Invoca's Santa Barbara, Denver, and Bay Area offices working remotely, Arango didn't worry too much about it. Then months passed, and she kept seeing more dead bees near the entrance. Eventually she searched the building trying to find evidence of a nest, and in January she finally gave up.

Unable to find the source of the bees in the building, Arango did some online research and called a local company, Super Bee Rescue and Removal, which specializes in removing and relocating honey bees without killing them. 

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Super Bee sent a technician, who spotted bees flying into the building from outside. Using thermal imaging, the technician tracked down the nest within five minutes, Arango says. It held 10 gallons of beeswax, honey, and pollen. The insects had found their way in through a hole in the building's exterior brick wall and took up residence in a crawl space between the second and third floors. (See video below.) The technician estimated they had been there at least six months. There was also an older honeycomb, indicating that a smaller number of bees had previously lived in the space for several years. (Invoca has been renting the building for about two years.) The bees were apparently dying because after being attracted to the entrance lights, they became trapped in the hallway, Arango says.

The following week, the technician cut a hole in the ceiling of a second-floor bathroom and spent all day luring the bees into a container. "She literally had to lift herself up into this hole she had to make in the ceiling and wiggle through the rafters in order to reach them," says Arango, who watched the work. The nest and the bees, including the queen, were extracted safely and moved to a natural environment.

Arango even got a bonus out of the deal: a piece of raw honeycomb the size of a dinner plate, which she gave to a colleague. "I asked him how the honey was," she says, "and his response was, 'Well, it tastes like honey!' " Super Bee took the rest of the honeycomb away to rebuild the hive in the wild.

Johnson--who is allergic to bee stings--says he was "flabbergasted" to learn of the incident, but relieved that it happened while the office was empty. The company doesn't have an urgent need to return to the office and likely won't do so until the late spring or summer, he adds. "Of all the Covid-19 pandemic challenges we expected to deal with," he says, "this was not on our list."