ASSISTANT TO THE CITY MANAGER
VICTORIA (POPULATION 10,585)
At its core, local government exists to serve its residents. Bringing citizens into the local governing process is key, but how do you continue to be a well-oiled local government machine during a pandemic? In Victoria, the answer was to support our greatest asset — our employees.
Getting the right tools
As we entered the pandemic, the limitations and benefits of remote work became clearer. Initially, we did not have the best tools to support remote work.
With federal CARES Act funds, we purchased laptops equipped with cameras and microphones to ensure our staff had the tools to work efficiently from their home offices. We quickly implemented a remote work policy and held virtual meetings to outline the expectations for remote work.
We also put systems in place that allowed our team to fully access all work files electronically. To avoid falling victim to cyberattacks, we worked with our IT services provider to boost our cybersecurity by directing resources to protect our endpoints, incorporate a VPN, and enhance routine monitoring.
With most city employees working remotely at least some of the time, workplace connections that had occurred casually in the lunchroom or hallway disappeared. But we remained committed to ensuring our team stayed connected, felt supported, and continued to be productive.
Like other cities, we adopted the use of Microsoft Teams and other web-based communication methods to continue team building. This allowed us to have any necessary meetings just as if we were in the office.
In addition, we added new communications and activities to keep employees informed and engaged. For example, City Manager Dana Hardie began sending “Friday Memos” via email with weekly highlights and upcoming events. We also started a weekly virtual 15-minute coffee break to learn about each other’s lives outside of work.
Looking to the future
Moving forward, the city will offer employees the opportunity to work a hybrid schedule — at least two days a week in the office — if it is a viable option for their position. Employees will develop a telework agreement with their supervisors. Agreements must be approved by the department head and reviewed at an institutional level to ensure that we continue to meet the needs of our residents.
LE SUEUR (POPULATION 4,150)
Cities across the world had to adjust their work processes to accommodate employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the pandemic ends, telecommuting is something that will likely stick around.
Telecommuting before COVID-19
In Le Sueur, we implemented a telecommuting policy in January 2020 — before the pandemic hit — with the goal of increasing employees’ work-life balance. We created the policy by evaluating peer cities with policies and using the parts that made sense for our workforce. The policy allowed employees to work from home one day a week.
We provided all applicable staff with laptops, and added Microsoft 365 and Teams to our staff computers. This platform allows for a seamless transition from an office setting to a home setting. The simplicity of this technology greatly reduced the normal hesitancies of managing telecommuters.
Increased telecommuting during pandemic
It was helpful that we’d already begun telecommuting when the pandemic hit. Working from home then became a necessity, allowing employees to safely continue city business while also being home for any family needs such as caring for children as schools turned to distance learning.
Day-to-day operations for managers consisted of more remote check-ins. Instead of stopping by someone’s office for a quick chat about a project, we popped up a video chat to accomplish the same goal. Overcommunicating was emphasized. Flexibility was also prioritized, as many workers were balancing other tasks during the pandemic.
A modern solution
When the pandemic ends, our city plans to continue with telecommuting. Having a well-defined policy has given the city the ability to help balance the needs of a modern workforce.
Managers need to adjust their styles to accommodate this new norm and offer more flexibility for success. Moving forward, work-life balance will become more important to employees than other benefits, and our city must adapt. Recruiting and retaining qualified and motivated professionals will continue to become even more challenging, and we hope offering flexibility will make our city more attractive.
Keeping abreast of emerging workplace trends, such as telecommuting, allows your organization to stay on the edge of success. Developing a solid policy and communicating about expectations will help achieve overall workplace happiness. These traits are keys to managing the modern municipal worker.