Telecommuting approved for some county workersThe potential for negative perceptions won't stop Goodhue County from launching a pilot telecommuting program that will allow some employees to work out of their homes.
By: Ruth Nerhaugen, The Republican Eagle
The potential for negative perceptions won't stop Goodhue County from launching a pilot telecommuting program that will allow some employees to work out of their homes.
The potential for "significant efficiencies" outweighed other concerns for Human Services Director Greg Schoener, who presented a draft policy to the County Board when it met Tuesday in Kenyon.
Under telecommuting, employees work part or all of the standard workweek at an alternate site on a regular basis. To be eligible, an employee must be approved by the immediate supervisor and department head. If it's not working, the agreement can be terminated.
He didn't accept the idea easily, Schoener admitted. But studies have shown that worker efficiency improves. Olmsted County has 15 to 20 percent of its staff telecommuting, he said, and efficiency jumped 20 percent.
Other concerns also were considered, Schoener said, including space. The Social Services and Public Health departments are crowded.
"We have to better utilize our people in unique ways," Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said. Telecommuting could eliminate the need to spend millions of dollars creating additional space for workers.
Even people who are concerned about a perception that county employees aren't going to work seem to understand that the alternative could be expensive, he said.
Commissioner Ron Allen said the last time the concept was discussed, he received phone calls from people who objected. That negative perception needs to be overcome, he said.
Schoener said the county's management team did an exhaustive study of other policies and took the best elements to create a local policy that covers all bases.
"I need to know that cases are being completed in a timely fashion," he said. "I need to measure it, and see it."
The policy and agreement cover everything from travel and child care to attendance at meetings, use of equipment/software, schedules, liability and security.
Schoener likely will be first to implement the program. He is targeting six to nine employees; eventually, up to 12 percent of his staff potentially could participate.
The Public Health Department also is expected to participate.
"I think it's a good policy," Rechtzigel said. "We've got to try new things."
Commissioner Jim Bryant agreed. A program that both saves money and increases efficiency is "exactly what we have to do," he said.
The county's Information Technology Department is working to set up the necessary equipment and connections.
IT Director Randy Johnson is one who supports telecommuting based on his own experiences. He told the R-E that before coming to work for the county, he was employed by Cray Research in the Twin Cities, but worked out of his Red Wing home.
"I can see the benefits of it," he said, particularly for the Social Services and health workers who do a lot of paperwork and data entry - some of it directly with state websites.
His staff members all have remote access, Johnson noted, and he said he could envision circumstances such as a flu epidemic when it would be very useful to allow people to work at home.
The motion to approve passed 4-1. Allen cast the lone negative vote; supporting the pilot program were Rechtzigel, Bryant and Commissioners Ralph Samuelson and Ted Seifert.
The pilot program will last for six months. It will be reviewed after 90 days, at which point Schoener will report back.