Converting many Riverside County government employees into permanent telecommuters will be on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda Tuesday.
Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Karen Spiegel are proposing that the board form a new Ad Hoc committee focused exclusively on establishing “Telecommuting & Virtual Meeting Policies.”
“Nationally, there has been much discussion about a permanent shift to more telecommuting and less need for physical offices,” the supervisors wrote in a statement posted to the board’s policy agenda. “Any new workforce model must still allow timely public access to county services and permits, with some combination of remote and in-person access available to those who need assistance.”
Since the county and state declarations of public health emergencies stemming from coronavirus 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,” they wrote. “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 the county the largest area employer in the public or private sectors.
The proposed committee would 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.
They acknowledged that while resorting to virtual meetings and conferences 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, including cross-talk, random voices, dropped calls, delayed pictures and sound, as well as periodic lack of coordination between the chair and the clerk of the board. Each supervisor has been broadcasting via webcams from their respective district offices.
Chairman Manuel Perez has not said how long the virtual format for board meetings will continue.
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 would 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 physical attendance difficult.”
Staff from the Departments of Human Resources and Information Technology would assist the committee in its research.
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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