By Zach Friend, Supervisor, Second District
Recently, the County instituted a new remote work policy for employees that will shift how and where many employees work.
Building on lessons learned during the pandemic, the County was able to effectively deliver services while simultaneously improving environmental outcomes, congestion and quality-of-life through remote work.
This new policy will preserve government services and public counter hours and is expected to result in nearly half of County employees working from home two days per week.
As one of the largest employers in the region — 2,500 employees — the County (through remote work) can play a key role in reducing traffic, improving the quality-of-life for employees and even recruiting and retaining top talent.
Additionally, with the County’s new South County Service Center opening in a year and a half or so there will be opportunities for some employees that do come into the office to work from a location closer to their home.
Here is a look at the new policy and the ways in which it can impact these elements.
Many County employees commute from the south county (and even points out of the county) to work.
Of employees who live within the county, 46% live in South County, 24% in Mid-County and 28% in North County.
As one of the largest employers in the region, the County plays a contributing role in rush hour traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.
The County estimates that having half of full-time employees perform a remote work option 2 days a week will equate to a reduction of nearly 2,000 metric tons of carbon emissions.
The County has been committed to reducing its carbon footprint. From the installation of solar arrays throughout County facilities and the recent purchase of a new South County Service Center, allowing the consolidation and expansion of services in South County and giving residents and staff the opportunity to reduce cross-county travel, the remote work policy is part of a broader effort to improve the County’s carbon footprint.
While remote work isn’t an option for all employees in our region, for those employers that could provide a flexible and remote work option it should be considered.
If multiple employers allowed a hybrid remote work option there could be notable impacts on traffic, quality-of-life and the environment. Even removing just a few percentage points of traffic from the road can have a big impact (as was seen before the pandemic when a school district was on a holiday break, for example).
Quality of Life
In a survey of County employees, 4 in 5 said that having a hybrid remote work option would improve a work/life balance and also improve morale and productivity.
During the pandemic, with many employees working remotely, the County did not experience drop-offs in productivity or increases in timelines for many services. As part of the survey, many employees noted it would be a recruitment and retention tool as well.
As noted above, many County employees commute from south county or out of the county to work.
With half of full-time employees working two days remotely, the County estimates that employees will drive 4.8 million less miles/year, save approximately 213,000 hours of commuting and 1,400 daily car trips.
While this has a significant impact on the quality-of-life of employees, it also has a noticeable impact on other commuters that won’t have these cars on the road. Ideally, this would save time for others that still need to commute and improve environmental outcomes with fewer cars on the road.
Overall, the future of work for many positions is shifting.
Many local public sector positions, and many private sector positions as well, can accommodate remote or hybrid options and improve environmental and quality-of-life outcomes for their community and employees. Employers that offer these options may be more competitive than those that only offer traditional work environments.
Given the high cost of living in our area, it can sometimes be difficult to recruit and retain employees. Having flexible work situations may provide incentive for employees to stay as it may reduce child care costs (as this option cuts down after work commute time), allows greater participation in school-day activities or after watching your kids school or league sports –things that many parents in our community struggle with due to the length of commutes due to where affordable housing can be obtained.
Eliminating these commutes, even a few days each week, can improve upon a lot of outcomes.
As always, I appreciate any feedback you may have on this or any other County issue.
I’m maintaining regular updates on social media at www.facebook.com/supervisorfriend and you can always call me at 454-2200.
Source: Long Range Facilities Plan, prepared by Gensler before the Covd-19 shelter in place in March 2020, adopted by Board of Supervisors in November 2020.