The Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved formation of a committee to examine ways of converting many Riverside County government workers into permanent telecommuters.

“This may be a historic opportunity because of the changes we’re all facing, with the way we do business,” Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said. “We don’t need the same number of cubicles or parking spaces. Employees don’t always have to come in.”

Jeffries joined Supervisor Karen Spiegel in requesting creation of the Ad Hoc Committee on Telecommuting & Virtual Meeting Policies.

“It’s time to start changing the method of thinking about telecommuting,” Spiegel said. “It won’t happen overnight. It will take time.”

Since the county and state declarations of public health emergencies stemming from the coronavirus pandemic in March, many county operations have shifted to telecommuting, according to the supervisors.

“While these changes were mostly intended to be temporary, there are opportunities to learn from these new work and meeting models and how some of these policies might continue to be utilized,” the supervisors said in a joint statement posted to the board’s agenda.

“Some department heads have reported that they have actually seen increased productivity in certain segments of their workforce and have expressed an interest in continuing to encourage telecommuting after the COVID crisis is over.”

Jeffries and Spiegel lauded cost savings netted from less overhead to sustain offices, as well as “reductions in commuting — and the resulting traffic and pollution — and increased quality of life for employees, who may have an extra two to three hours per day with families that are no longer on the road.”

The county workforce is comprised of roughly 22,000 people, making it the largest area employer in the public and private sectors.

The committee will examine which jobs are ideally suited to telecommuting and which aren’t.

“Not every job can be done remotely, and not every employee is capable of working productively without being managed more closely,” the supervisors said.

Jeffries also emphasized that the intention is not to create further barriers for residents trying to obtain county services.

“The employee-customer relationship has to be maintained,” he said. “Customers have to be happy.”

The supervisors acknowledged that while resorting to virtual meetings and conferences — including for the last two months, all board meetings — has been advantageous in some instances, “for others, a lack of digital infrastructure has made county government less accessible.”

Every livestreamed board meeting since June 30 has been plagued by technical flaws. However, board Chairman Manuel Perez announced Tuesday that in-person meetings will resume on Sept. 15.

The County Administrative Center in downtown Riverside, where the board chamber is located, will reopen to the public on Sept. 8 after a nine-week precautionary closure because several workers were diagnosed with COVID-19.

According to Jeffries and Spiegel, the committee will specifically look at “what systems might best allow access to meetings as smoothly as possible for those who cannot attend in person — whether because they are in an `at risk’ category … or simply because their work or home situations make attendance difficult.”

Staff from the Office of the Assessor-Clerk-Recorder, as well as the Departments of Human Resources and Information Technology will assist the committee.

The last time telecommuting was implemented on a modest level in county government occurred during the summer of 2008, at the height of escalating energy costs that sent the price of gasoline over $5 per gallon.

Many employees’ work schedules were also modified to curtail driving.

Then-Supervisor Jeff Stone and now-retired Department of Human Resources chief Ron Komers were strong proponents of conversion to a virtual workforce for efficiency and savings.

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