While, telecommuting practices have largely been a staple of the private sector, with many businesses having some long standing telework policy available, local governments have generally lagged in having work from home policies. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic changed that. Local governments across the nation began to use telecommuting and rushed to implement telework policies so that all but the most essential of workers could remain out of the office. Now, as many communities plan to return to normal operations, many within local government wonder if this is the time to implement widespread telework policies.
When looking at how to best implement a permanent work from home policy, first consider which roles and functions within your organization are able to work remotely. Ensuring that local government functions can continue to adequately serve the community should be the primary concern. Department heads and managers are in the best position to determine if an employee's duties can continue to be fulfilled while working from home. The city of Sacramento has developed a list of criteria for employees and supervisors to review when determining which positions can transition to telecommuting. Many cities have found that some departments naturally lend themselves to teleworking. Examples include planning and inspections, IT, finance, and permitting.
Individual departments are best able to make the determination on how many employees and operations can be done remotely, with many being able to develop their own remote processes for continuing city operations. Raoul Lavin of Tallahassee, Florida, was able to help develop a working policy to keep the building inspection process moving during the pandemic. These types of policy updates should be drafted by department heads and managers, who have a better understanding of what must be done in person versus what can be done at home, and coordinated with human resources to ensure consistency and equity across the organization.
When beginning to establish a telecommuting policy for employees, it is important to develop a teleworking agreement for employees to review and sign. This teleworking agreement should be where expectations, protocols, procedures, and any other requirements are outlined. This agreement should ensure that any of the organizations rules, procedures, and policies are outlined as well. It is also important to make clear what liabilities and expenses are covered by the employee and by the employer. The San Francisco Department of Human Resources has had a longstanding telecommuting program policy available for city employees and supervisors to review.
Guidelines recommending a proper and adequate workspace should be included in this original agreement, along with the expectation that the location for teleworking in a safe environment is the employee's responsibility to locate. Your organization may need to help with installation of equipment depending on the type of equipment required for telecommuting, and your organization may need to procure specific equipment to enable certain departments to adequately function while telecommuting. Equipment can include that which is needed to ensure reliable internet, adequate telephone access, and computer equipment. Having a strong IT department will help with the installation and troubleshooting of teleworking equipment. Given the virtual nature of working from home, having strong cyber-security measures in place is essential in setting up robust teleworking agreements.
The International City/County Manager Association (ICMA) has developed a checklist for local governments to ensure that their cybersecurity measures sufficient. Ensuring that your organizations services and work environments are electronically secure is in the best interest of the organization and the public.
When looking at employee availability and hours for scheduling it is important to note that some positions may be eligible for full time teleworking while others may be better suited to part-time telework. The determination of how often an employee can be physically present in a city office should be determined by the manager based on the needs of the position and the Department. While telecommuting, employees should always be available by phone and email, and should be working for the duration of the agreed-upon hours.
While many positions could be performed remotely on a full- or part- time basis, many cities may determine that having staff working in person is what best serves the organization’s public purpose. In the end, the decision to expand teleworking or to return to in-person services may come down to how well it could benefit both staff and the community. Regardless of what future route a city takes, having developed strong telecommuting policies and electronic/IT services has the potential to improve both the services offered by the city and the performance of staff when serving the community.