As more states and localities have implemented closures to help limit the spread of coronavirus, many cities are working overtime to transition a largely in-office workforce to telework. While telework is not possible for those in essential positions such as emergency responders, sanitation workers, and utility workers, those employees who can work from home, should do so to limit the number of workers remaining in city facilities.
Cities around the country have taken swift action. The City of San Francisco was able to rapidly scale up its existing telework program. Washington, D.C. has a webpage to provide telework expectations and tips for its departments utilizing telework, with content tailored to the many teams and staff members new to telework. Chicago, Baltimore, Tumwater, WA, and Knoxville, TN, are among the cities that have established a temporary telework policy to allow employees to work from home during the pandemic. And in recognition of the stress many workers are facing, Hampton, Va. is running online mindfulness sessions to help employees cope.
For departments and employees newly transitioning to telework, cities should be prepared to offer a comprehensive telework policy. It is important for workers and managers to understand performance expectations and how management will occur while workers are out of the office. Employees and their supervisors also need to understand what changes, if any, apply to things like compensation, leave, and benefits for the duration of the emergency, as well as any changes due to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The cities of Hampton, Va., Tucson, Ariz., Sacramento, CA, Boulder, CO, and Minneapolis, MN. provide examples of online resource pages for important information related to telework for city staff.
Cities should be prepared to address an increased number of information technology challenges related to a large-scale shift to telework. In addition to finding technological solutions to open meeting requirements, your city may need to consider state open records or privacy rules when looking for new ways to communicate or work on documents. If your networks are capacity-limited, your city may need to consider staggering work hours to reduce the number of employees trying to access servers simultaneously.
Finally, bad actors have found local governments to be a particularly attractive target for cyberattacks as they shift to telework during the pandemic emergency. NLC’s cybersecurity municipal action guide for local leaders outlines several steps your city can take immediately to reduce your risk of disruption and public safety harm. This includes renewing staff education on city cybersecurity policies and the importance of good cyber hygiene and partnering with the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Consortium to take advantage of free and low-cost defensive tools. Your city may also want to review any cyber emergency response plans that depend on failing back to paper documents and manual processes, as these may be impossible with City Hall closed.
For those staff who must continue to report to work in person, cities should take measures to minimize the health risk to those staff and to any members of the public. Some of these measures could include cleaning procedures at facilities, social distancing requirements for work stations, and personal protective equipment requirements, such as the use of face coverings. By making certain administrative or operational changes, cities can reduce the number of residents coming in to interact with city staff. It is important to communicate these changes with residents on a variety of channels. Some of these changes may include:
- Requiring advance appointments for critical City Hall functions to space out the number of people in the building at any one time, and to allow departments to determine demand and minimum in-person staffing requirements.
- Encourage residents and businesses to use online, rather than in-person transactions by waiving online processing fees.
- Extend deadlines for procedures, payments or applications. Set up phone or online processes if they are not already in place and consider temporarily waiving wet-signature or similar physical requirements for document filings.
- Suspend certain parking fines or enforcements, to limit resident and city employee travel throughout the area.
Additional examples and resources may be found here:
- Sample telework policy – American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
- Managing Employees You Cannot See – International City/County Management Association
- Telework 360 – Center for Digital Government
- Questions and Answers on telework, leave policies, and related pandemic City workplace issues provided by the League of Minnesota Cities.
- S. Department of Labor’s frequently asked questions page about the Fair Labor Standards Act and telework.
- S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance on providing accommodations to employees with disabilities during the pandemic.
- Office Closures, Telecommuting, and Essential Employees – Municipal Research and Services Center
About the Authors:
Angelina Panettieri is the Legislative Manager for Information Technology and Communications at the National League of Cities. Follow her on twitter at @AngelinainDC.