May 25, 2022 - News

Des Moines and Polk County assess work-from-home government

Illustration of an office cubicle with a roof like a house.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Des Moines and Polk County officials are reviewing work-from-home guidelines as some municipal employees push for remote statuses adopted in the early days of the pandemic, human resource directors from both governments tell Axios.

Why it matters: Local governments provide crucial public services.

  • Efforts to balance the community's needs with employees' desire for more workplace flexibility has significantly ramped up recently.

The big picture: 77% of Americans whose job can be done remotely say it's important that their employer allow them to work remotely when they want to, according the annual Axios Harris 100 poll.

Catch up fast: In early 2020, with the arrival of COVID, both Des Moines and Polk County closed multiple government offices and shifted as many employees as possible to remote work.

  • Many offices have brought employees back in recent months as services return to normal.

State of play: Roughly 5% of full-time staffers still work remotely for at least a portion of their week, as some temporary administrative policies remain in place allowing for work-from-home flexibility.

  • That's about 80 Des Moines employees and 65 for Polk County.

The latest: Both governments are reviewing permanent alternate work arrangement policies and are expected to issue employee guidance in coming weeks.

What they're saying: While just a fraction of the workforce is remote, James Wells, Des Moines' HR director tells Axios it's necessary to have policies and procedures in place to maintain functions like customer service operations or staff collaborations, which can require in-person employees.

  • Polk's HR director Jeff Edgar wrote in a memo to the county manager this month that research suggests hybrid arrangements of up to two days of remote work a week are the most effective for productivity and morale.
  • The key is monitoring the work product and retaining "robust authority to revoke it where necessary," Edgar wrote.

The bottom line: The face of government operations, like in many private businesses, has been forever changed by the pandemic.

  • Some level of remote work is here to stay.
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