MANKATO – As with many offices, last year’s sudden decision to send many people home to work came as a surprise to the Le Sueur County Social Services Department.
“When we started (remotely) it was like taking the bandage off. We were forced to do it, ”said department head Sue Rynda. “We were considered essential employees, but the governor asked anyone who could work from home to do so. “
While having employees working outside the office was a shake-up of tradition, the county learned it worked and could help alleviate the lack of space.
While the county council is still considering whether and how to allow continuous home work schedules for some employees, county commissioner Steve Rohlfing said he and other commissioners see benefits.
“We know people can work from home and be efficient, and managers have checks and balances. And you look at the brick and mortar costs now, do you need that much of that? “
The social services offices are now located on the lower level of the County Government Center, which is the former courthouse.
“We’re piled up like sardines,” Rynda said of her staff. “We have space issues here.”
The county has addressed the renovation of the government center and the need for more space. Rohlfing and Rynda said having more staff working remotely could save taxpayers money on office renovations and expansion.
A radical change
The pandemic has caused a similar shift in thinking for many companies.
“I think at the local level there is just a lot more flexibility,” said Jessica Beyer, president and CEO of Greater Mankato Growth.
“It depends on the industrial sector, manufacturing obviously has different needs. But even there they look at the office staff (working remotely).
Beyer said everyone was immersed in intense remote working lessons due to the pandemic. She said GMG will continue to hold more Zoom meetings for its staff while meeting in person.
But she expects there will be challenges for businesses in the future, especially large companies.
“It’s a challenge if you manage hundreds of people. How do you make sure they are productive and flexible for them? “
As remote working becomes more and more common, many employees and businesses are finding even more benefits from being in the office.
Jeff Lang, director of CliftonLarsonAllen at Bridge Plaza in downtown Mankato, said he agreed to a handful of employees who have asked to continue working from home, part-time or full-time.
“There are several reasons why we think it is important for people to be in the office: interaction with clients, training, developing a team culture. It’s hard to create a culture when you’re away from the office.
While he said the company understands why remote working is better for some employees, the majority of its 30-40 employees want to be in the office. “They value their teammates, camaraderie and information sharing is important to them.”
While most companies expected to be fully open to employees who wanted to return to the office, many are now slowing the return as the COVID-19 delta variant causes an increase in new cases.
“Effective June 1, we encouraged people to return to the office, but we did not mandate him,” Lang said. “At this point, like a lot of people, we’re just waiting to see what happens with the variant.”
Driven by employees
More and more workers are looking for flexible working hours, whether they work part-time or full-time remotely.
This sometimes causes clashes between employees and managers of some companies who are reluctant to allow working from home. But polls and press reports suggest that employee expectations for flexibility outweigh any reluctance from management. As a Business Insider headline put it, “In the war on homework, the WFH is winning.
In a survey by consultant Grant Thornton of more than 1,500 American workers, 79% said they wanted flexibility and 40% said they would look for another job if they were forced to be on the job. their full-time office. Other surveys reveal a similar reluctance on the part of many workers to work full-time in offices. In the current climate of labor shortages in virtually every industry in the United States, these workers are in greater demand as companies strive to improve benefits and find ways to attract and keep employees.
A lot of learning
Rynda said social service staff and the county have learned a lot, but there is still a long way to go if remote working is to become a permanent fixture in the future.
“I always say don’t let a crisis go by without learning from it. “
The first thing was to make sure that the employees had the technology they needed to work from home and that they felt comfortable there.
“I can’t say enough good things about our IT department. They had a lot of old computers in storage and were installing a lot of stuff and making sure that employees could access our system securely, ”Rynda said.
Online security was a key factor as the department works with a number of clients with a range of sensitive information. She said the county switched to an online case management system a few years ago, which made working remotely easier. And all of the employees were given a county cell phone so they could communicate with customers without using their personal phones. Employees can access customer records and government systems without leaving any information on a home computer. The department also uses a secure Zoom medical system so that employees can virtually meet customers.
“I applaud our county council because they supported us before the pandemic to invest in an electronic document system and convert to laptops for our social workers who are a lot in the field and just a lot of other technology upgrades. . “
Rynda said that of their 61 full-time employees, four are interested in working full-time from home while 31 are interested in working from home part of the week.