State economic leaders studying the impact of remote work on offices

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch says his office is reviewing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the 10 agencies it oversees, as most workers remain remote.

Gaunch spoke in front of state lawmakers in the past week and said he has observed two things as a result of the pandemic that may affect how the agencies are run. He said one is they have more people capable of working from home than he anticipated and second, he believes there is a surplus of employees.

Ed Gaunch

Gaunch said he is not proposing a mass layoff of workers but he said a plan is underway to review remote work. He said there is savings for the state with the plan.

“We are looking at who can work from home, how do we hold them accountable, how do we measure what they do,” Gaunch said. “Secondly, what are your staffing needs now? We can see now that you can do without certain staff members that you’ve had in the past.”

John Deskins from WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research also spoke in front of lawmakers on remote work. He said this is an exciting idea and opportunity that the state needs to capitalize on.

He called for leaders around the state to target those workers in a big city who want a smaller lifestyle.

“We have an opportunity to say hey, keep your high paying job in New York, Chicago or Washington. You can come to West Virginia, work remotely, you can enjoy a low cost of living and high quality of life. Get away from that hustle and bustle,” Deskins said.

John Deskins

Deskins noted that the strategy of remote workers has been in place pre-pandemic by CEOs across the country. He said business leaders are seeing that workers can do their jobs just as effectively from home and it cuts down on a business expense as far as maintaining an office space.

He said the type of economic development such as bringing in a firm is still there but the state needs to look into this remote strategy.

“I know that you folks in the Capitol are working on this, I know those people in the department of commerce are working on this. We have people at WVU who are working on this and trying to market our state to remote workers. I think this is a great opportunity,” Deskins said.

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