The Sacramento Region Embraces Telework
Employers are building work-from-home strategies that last
October 20, 2021: Before the pandemic, telework was infrequent. For most offices, workplace policies, job descriptions, and a general understanding of job performance all centered around in-person duties. In 2020, state and local stay-at-home orders forced companies to adjust employee work arrangements so they could keep business moving. Now, employees want flexible telework options and supportive policies continued. Many in our region have been left wondering, how is telework defining our new normal?
SACOG launched a Regional Telework Pilot Initiative at the outset of the pandemic to support remote work as an ongoing option. The pilot provided customized assistance to a group of employers to help them develop or update their telework programs. According to a baseline survey, nearly 80 percent of employee respondents did not have the option to telework before the pandemic; and 52 percent would like to telework two to four days a week going forward, 35 percent five days a week.
The great work-from-home experiment has led companies and employees to realize that not everyone has to be in the office to complete their work. “Basically, on March 13, 2020, we went home for the weekend and never came back,” said Patrick Guild, chief operating officer for Breathe California Sacramento Region (BCSR), which was a participant in the Regional Telework Pilot. “We were able to make it work quickly and all the things we thought were going to be concerns, most of them were unfounded. People stayed on task. People were reliable. People were transparent. It opened our eyes to the possibilities.” Before the pilot, Guild wasn’t sure how they were going to build on their telework success. Now the organization has a written policy that allows for flexibility, and they are confident about work-from-home options moving forward.
Steer, a consulting group hired to assist telework pilot participants, has been working with employers, listening to employees, and helping organizations craft collaborative policies that meet everyone’s needs. Julia Wean, the principal consultant, says that clarity is key: “Having a really clear policy is important so everyone understands what their roles are and what the expectations are. Don’t treat telework as a benefit. It’s a policy that everyone has access to as long as they are doing what is expected of them. If it isn’t working for an employee there is a way to get them the supervision they might need.”
Telework was not a widely adopted benefit before the pandemic. Of the program participants surveyed, only 7 percent of employees worked from home. Employers were hesitant that productivity and influence could be managed remotely. But now, according to Wean, managers are asking questions and interest is growing in continuing telework as an option for employees.
Guild shared that it has been a good transition for their team, and they plan to continue. “Definitely working a hybrid between at home and in the office,” he said when asked what his future work schedule will look like. BCSR is downsizing their workspace to adapt to having fewer people in the office full time when things get back to a resemblance of normal.
At the state level, the California Department of General Services announced a statewide telework policy that leaves remote policy development up to the individual departments. The overall policy states that “An effective telework program must provide a benefit to the state, as well as employees, and should generate savings or at least be cost neutral.” Benefits range from reducing required office space to reducing state environmental impacts. According to an article by the Sacramento Bee, some departments have plans to increase the number of days employees work in the office over time, and others are requiring a minimum amount of time that employees must spend in the office. Departments are working to identify what they need for operations. Overall, it is a broad spectrum of strategies.
When people talk about the “new normal,” that vision includes hybrid workplaces. “No one wants to spend 40 hours a week in the office, but they want the option to come back,” explained Guild, who says that their team misses in-person collaboration, connection with coworkers, and even walking meetings. While some are looking forward to going back to the office, the pandemic forced a big shift in favor of employee flexibility that many want to see continued. Employers are listening and taking action so that telework succeeds beyond the pandemic.
In 2022, SACOG will survey employers and employees to measure which pilot strategies were the most effective in supporting telework programs. There are also telework resources available on SACOG’s website, which will be updated as more data becomes available.