Telework pilot program eased JCC pandemic concerns

(Photo by Antonio Borriello from Pexels)

JAMES CITY COUNTY – In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt. In the lockdown that followed, workplaces and schools either ceased operations entirely or completely overhauled all aspects of their operation to foster an atmosphere of security from a distance.

As most workplaces scrambled, the James City County Government (JCC) had a head start with a telecommuting program in place since 2017. The pilot program started with the Department of Social Services of the JCC. According to County Human Resources Director Patrick Teague, Social Services were struggling with a lack of office space at their facility on Olde Towne Road.

“The ability for them to function in this limited space has become impractical over time,” Teague. “I had previously worked for the Commonwealth of Virginia, where they had a very active telecommuting program, so it seemed logical that we were going to fix the existing space problem.”

Statistics on working from home were readily available long before the pandemic. According to consulting firm Global Work Place Analytics, people who work from home are up to 40% more productive and have a 40% lower absenteeism rate.

The data also shows that employers who offer work-from-home options also have higher retention rates and larger profit margins. According to a study published by Forbes Magazine, one of the world’s leading business magazines, employees who work from home at least once a month are 24% more likely to report feeling happier and more productive at their jobs.

Over time in James City County, the telecommuting program proved to be a success for the Department of Social Services. Despite its success before the pandemic, there were no plans to use telecommuting in other departments.

“The core of our mission as an organization is direct public service, we didn’t feel the pressure to go beyond where we were at with telecommuting,” Teague said.

While the county had a department with some of its workforce telecommuting, that doesn’t mean navigation went smoothly when JCC had to send all non-essential workers home due to the pandemic. .

Navigating the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, everyone was trying to find a way to perform their tasks efficiently and safely. The first and last became all the more difficult as new information about COVID-19 and best practices in social distancing evolved rapidly.

In addition to the implications of the pandemic for people who could not work from home, the security of internet connections and the amount of sensitive information that was now going to be outside the relative safety of county offices. County information technology (IT) experts had to scramble to find equipment that people could take home in order to do their jobs more efficiently. Often the IT department would remove older computer systems that could be upgraded and refurbished.

“We were extremely fortunate to have a very agile and active IT department,” Teague said of the emergency deployment. “The biggest issues with any type of emergency like this are equipment and access. We had to figure out not only what to do with the people who couldn’t come to the office, but what to do with the few who are here now. What are we doing to make the workplace safe and how to keep everyone productive.

Despite the uncertainty at the moment, Teague says the processes were surprised at how smoothly the ordeal went.

As the country emerges from the pandemic, workplaces must now make big decisions about how they will conduct day-to-day operations. JCC is currently analyzing all of its positions to see which ones are viable to continue working from home.

Teague said all positions that were homebound during the pandemic will not stay homebound in the future, but it’s something his department is looking at on a case-by-case basis.

To watch the presentation given to the James City County Board of Directors, click here. The presentation begins at 00:39:29 video marker.

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