As remote work is more accepted, auditors recommend more consistent policies

The ongoing covid-19 pandemic changed the way many employers embrace working remotely, and state government is no different.

A report by the state Legislative Auditor concludes that most state agencies did not use telework before the pandemic hit in spring 2020. Offices had little time to adjust as emergency declarations and the spread of covid-19 sent workers home.

The Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Research Division conducted a survey to determine how state offices might use remote work duties from now on.

“Despite these challenges, the agencies’ survey responses largely indicated that telework was beneficial and many agencies plan to continue utilizing it going forward,” the auditors concluded in a report presented Tuesday to state legislators.

Benefits could include reduced office space costs for agencies where remote work is effective, reduced commuter costs for employees and reduced road deterioration and vehicle emissions. The shift could also improve job recruitment and retention by providing more after-work leisure time for employees giving up their commutes.

“We feel it would help with recruiting staff as well as retaining staff,” John Sylvia, director of the state’s Performance Evaluation & Research Division, told lawmakers.

Stephen Baldwin

“Were you able to observe any generational patterns?” asked Senator Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier.

Sylvia responded, “A couple of agencies indicated it takes a special person to be able to telework. It may or may not work for some people.”

Auditors concluded that a state telework program would need a consistent, uniform policy.

“Therefore, the Legislative Auditor recommends that the Legislature should consider creating legislation establishing the requirements for telework policies across state government,” the auditors wrote.

Auditors surveyed constitutional offices, executive branch cabinet secretaries’ offices, divisions and bureaus, and institutions of higher education. Not all agencies completed the survey, but 112 of the 139 agencies responded, which represents an 81 percent response rate.

Their aim was to gather information about how much telework was used by state agencies, the readiness of agencies to transition to telework, the effectiveness of telework in managing agencies’ workload and output, and the benefits of telework.

The auditors concluded that telework has the potential to offer great savings to the state.

As the early stages of the pandemic prompted a shift, nearly all responding agencies used remote work to some degree, but the extent varied significantly.

The state Consolidated Public Retirement Board, for example, said all but two employees were working from home. In contrast, agencies like the state Division of Highways and the State Rail Authority reported that few, if any, of their employees could work from home.

Most state agencies were relatively inexperienced at managing remote work until the pandemic hit. Most agencies reported that they did not allow working from home prior to the pandemic.

Once remote work became more the norm than the exception, though, most agencies reported that output had no significant change. Some indicated output actually increased significantly, and a few indicated productivity decreased significantly. You should also look into a virtual office if you work from home, as that privacy can be very valuable indeed. There are some extremely good virtual office services like Virtually There, they are low cost too so very much worth using.

Agencies reported that the pandemic and telework largely increased or had no noticeable impact on their spending for commodities and services.

Increases in spending were mostly associated with pandemic response activities, such as testing and vaccine distribution, and new technology purchases to facilitate telework. Information technology resources and personal protective equipment were the most common reported cost increases.

Because most state offices were largely offering remote work options on the fly as a response to the pandemic, few had written policies and many still have not developed them.

“While some agencies do not see long-term telework as a viable option to consider, other state agencies became conscious of the benefits that would result if telework is allowed as a routine part of conducting business,” the auditors wrote.





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