JAMES CITY COUNTY — In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt. In the ensuing lockdown, work places and schools either ceased operations entirely or completely overhauled every aspect of how they did business in order to foster a safe atmosphere from a remote distance.
While most workplaces were scrambling, the James City County (JCC) government had a bit of a head start because of a telework program that had been in place since 2017. The pilot program got its start with the JCC Social Services Department. According to county Human Resources Director, Patrick Teague, Social Services was running into problems with lack of office space at their facility on Olde Towne Road.
“The ability for them to function in that limited amount of space, became unworkable over time,” Teague. “I had previously worked for the Commonwealth of Virginia, where he had a very active telework program, so it seemed like a logical thing for us to go to fix the existing space issue.”
The statistics on working from home have been readily available since long before the pandemic. According to the research-based consulting firm, Global Work Place Analytics, people who work from home are up to 40 percent more productive and have 40 percent lower absenteeism.
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, a leading global business industry magazine, employees who work from home at least once a month are 24 percent more likely to report feeling happier and more productive in their jobs.
As time went on in James City County, the teleworking program proved to be a success for the Human Services Department. Despite its success prior to the pandemic, there was no plan to use teleworking in other departments.
“The bulk of our mission as an organization is direct public service, we did not feel the pressure to move beyond where we were with telework,” Teague said.
While the county had one department with some of its workforce telecommuting, that does not mean it was smooth sailing when JCC had to send all non-essential workers home due to the pandemic.
Navigating the unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic, everyone was trying to find a way to perform their job tasks effectively and safely. Both the former and latter became all the more difficult as new information about COVID-19 and social distancing best practices were rapidly changing.
On top of the pandemic implications 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 of the relative security of county offices. County Information Technology (IT) experts had to scramble to find equipment for people to be able to take home in order to do their jobs more effectively. Often times, IT was pulling out older computer systems that could be updated and refurbished.
“We were extremely fortunate to have a very nimble and active information technology department,” Teague said of the emergency roll out. “The biggest issues for any kind of emergency like that is equipment and access. We had to figure out not only what do with folks who could not come into the office, but what do we do with the few who are in here now. What do we do to make the workplace safe and how do we keep everyone productive.”
Despite the uncertainty in the moment, Teague says the who processes was surprised at how smooth the entire ordeal was.
As the nation crawls out of the pandemic, workplaces are now having to make big decisions about how they will proceed with day to day operations. JCC is currently analyzing all of its positions to see which ones are viable to continue to working from home.
Teague said that not all the positions that were homebound during the pandemic will stay that way going forward, but it is something his department is looking into on a case by case basis.
To watch the presentation given before the James City County Board of Supervisors, click here. The presentation begins at 00:39:29 marker of the video.