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Polco News & Knowledge

Five Reasons Local Government Must Embrace Remote Work

-By Heidi Voorhees, GovHR USA President -

This is part of a two part series about remote work. 

As municipal and county offices re-open, leaders will face many challenges. One will be more requests to work from home and another will be the need to provide a healthy work environment for employees.  In putting the post COVID workplace puzzle together, these are two pieces that connect seamlessly.

Consider these pre-COVID statistics regarding remote work:

  • 35% of employees would change jobs for the opportunity to work remotely full time (47% of millennials and 31% of boomers). 37% would change jobs to work remotely some of the time (50% of millennials and 33% of boomers). State of the American Workforce, Gallup 2016.
  • More than one third of workers would take a pay cut of up to 5% in exchange to work remotely at least some of the time. One quarter would take a 10% pay cut. 20% would take an even greater pay cut. State of Remote Workforce 2019, Owl Labs
  • The average worker who telecommutes does so about 50% of their workweek. According to surveys, that also matches the most common for those 80% to 90% looking to telecommute.
  • According to a study done by Staples Advantage, workers who were allowed to work from home reported much higher levels of job satisfaction and better work-life balance. Home workers reported 25% lower stress levels, 73% said they ate healthier working from home, 76% were more loyal to their company and 80% reported a better work-life balance. 
  • Global Workplace Analytics estimates that employers can save up to $11,000 a year for every employee that telecommutes half of their time. Employees can save between $2,000 and $7,000 annually.

Reason #1 – Employee Health and Safety

Workplace safety will take on a whole new meaning post COVID-19.  Most local government offices will not have enough space to provide for the necessary social distancing.  Loss of revenue will make it difficult to dedicate resources to adding physical office space and/or adapting the space that is available. 

Reason #2 – The Workforce of Tomorrow Wants Remote Work Today

Pre-COVID, local government was desperate to hire from the millennial workforce.  Millennials and their successor Generation Z do not subscribe to the office facetime ideology reminiscent of their Boomer and Generation X cohorts. 

 Savvy supervisors know how to measure productivity and engage with their employees on outcomes — not time in a desk chair.  The idea that we need to see someone at work to ensure they are working is outdated and flawed.  So is the idea that we need to treat all employees the same.  

As employers we make distinctions for employees all the time including who is on what shift, who works at a front counter, who is in an office.  We will need to say no to some remote work requests, but we can say yes to far more than we are now.

Reason #3 – Local Government Must Retool

The revenue loss most local governments are experiencing is staggering. The 2008 recession saw many local governments regionalize resources, outsource jobs and find new ways to deliver municipal services.  Pay cuts, layoffs, and furlough days were the norm. 

 During COVID, online services (including video building inspections!) have become a necessity.  Residents are adapting to these changes and may be open to further changes if it means their taxes do not go up. Pay reductions may be a little more palatable if they include work from home options that reduce commuting costs, commuting time, after school care costs, etc.  

As former Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole said in a recent interview: “When we emerge from (our homes) we can’t hunker down in obsolete formulas of outmoded government bureaucracy.”  Here is a link to his thoughtful interview

Reason #4 – Local Government Can Compete for Hard to Fill Positions

HR Directors know that looking for engineers, accountants, IT specialists, planners and many other positions is very challenging.  Local governments have difficulty competing with the private sector and, if you are in a rural area, some of these recruitments are nearly impossible. 

Consider remote work for an accountant who can access a community’s general ledger remotely; an engineer who can review plans and engage with a developer on-line; a zoning specialist who can review a resident’s plans for an addition; and an IT specialist who can remote into a computer and fix an IT problem.  

Think of the stay at home parent who can do your accounting, engineering, IT, plan review, social media and other services remotely while their children are at school between 9 and 3 each day.  These can be part time or project related positions that are measurable. They can be part remote/part on site work with careful sharing of workspaces.  We are limited only by our collective creativity.

Reason #5 – Act on Your Diversity Initiatives

Local governments frequently say they want to recruit for a diverse workforce.  According to a survey by 2019FlexJobs, 31% of women took a career break after having children because of a lack of employer flexibility.  Many women and men working remotely during the COVID-19 crisis find they like the flexibility. 

Employers can expect to see requests for this flexibility post COVID.  The very real impact will be felt this summer as parents scramble for childcare in the face of summer school and summer camp cancellations.  Some jobs can be done combining early morning hours and evening hours when childcare can be shared.  

Millennials and Generation Z represent significantly more diversity than their Boomer and Generation X predecessors. Remote work is important to them.  If local government employers are serious about diversity, this is one big way to move that needle.

The impact of remote work on climate change can be significant and is worthy of another blog post. In the meantime please consider the statistics in this article.

Government will never be fully remote, but we are behind the curve compared to other sectors. Now is the perfect time to take a careful, thoughtful look at this option.  This link provides sound advice on considerations for establishing remote work

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