Exploring the Remote Work Model Has Amazing Possibilities
From my perspective, remote work is still a relatively new model in local government but, the concept is one with great possibilities both for permanent and temporary jobs. When I was with the City of Santa Cruz, I participated in the telework pilot in 2013-14, working at home 30% of the time. I was the super user, testing the capabilities of telework from both a technology and productivity perspective. And I got to wear my fuzzy slippers. Currently, I work at home 10% of the time and still enjoy the slippers.
My experience with telework has been great. I get more done when I wasn’t interrupted as much, and I can really focus on projects that required prolonged analysis or writing. My husband, an IT technician, set up dual screens so I have a great platform for those massive budget forecast spreadsheets that are an Analyst’s life. I found I am less tired after a day of teleworking even though I get more done.
I’ll admit that it did take some getting used to. Some of my coworkers prefer not to pick up the phone to check in with me, which means that the days I am in the office are busier. However, there were fewer technology bugs than I expected. I only had to come into the office once when the connection was down. I tested the capabilities of all of the systems and was triumphant when I could run all the expenditure reports after some tweaking. I know, I’m a nerdy analyst.
Recently, I saw an article on a new company, Power to Fly. Its concept is to connect project opportunities to software developers working remotely. While this is attractive because it provides a great deal of flexibility for families, it also has amazing possibilities for working on projects that would not be possible otherwise because of the distance.
I think the same thing can be done in the government sector with great benefits to many. In 2007, I commuted full-time from San Jose to San Bruno for four months to develop the capital improvement budget in an interim capacity. I wouldn’t be able to do that again unless I could do part of it via telework. Imagine the possibilities of providing help to small, rural communities or special districts if there was greater trust in the telework model. I could even assist an Indian reservation in South Dakota with water reliability or grant applications using telework tools. Or, conversely, someone living in that rural community or reservation could have a skilled job via telework that otherwise wouldn’t be available.
The trust needed to embrace this model is no different than the trust needed to work closely with someone who doesn’t sit in the same building. Yes, face-to-face meetings are useful occasionally, but after working a substantial portion of my job remotely for almost a year, I challenge how often they are really needed once trust is established. After all, we trust consultants to do the work remotely. We should expand that model to our own employees.
Using telework technology may also help pave the way for millennials. I met with our agency’s summer interns recently to talk about technology, and I realized with a bit of a shock that I was an intern before smartphones or even cell phones. The next generation has access to great tools now and expects to use them. If musicians can practice music together via the internet, surely we can develop a budget remotely using some of these same tools.