Connecting state and local government leaders
COMMENTARY | If state and local governments want to be competitive in the job market, then they need to embrace remote work.
As of Feb. 11, 2022, the job board www.governmentjobs.com listed 45,472 jobs. Of those, 1,698 contain the keyword “remote.”
Another board, www.careersingovernment.com, listed 9,457 jobs; only 352 include the keyword “remote.”
And www.govtjobs.com offered 285 remote jobs…out of 6,651 total listings.
Based on these, let’s assume that less than 4% of available jobs in government are offering remote work at a time when 31% of all workers globally are working remote. The remote-work ship has sailed – and government is standing on the pier. Consider these statistics:
- Economists predict 50% of the U.S. workforce is either going to work from home or work in a hybrid model for the long-term post-pandemic.
- Jobs specified as “remote” receive 300% more applications than jobs that are not.
- Businesses that don’t offer any kind of flexible-work options could be losing out on up to 70% of job seekers.
- Fifty-seven percent of government workers who can do so would like to work remotely “at least part time” and 28% would prefer to work remotely full time.
The disconnect between the employment landscape and what government agencies seem willing to offer when it comes to work flexibility are striking. With the silver tsunami and great resignation combining to result in double-digit turnover rates in our industry, our reluctance to reset our work cultures and provide flexible work environments continues to leave us with long-running vacancies, low application rates and unending open recruitments that fail to be filled with qualified candidates.
Embracing remote work for suitable positions is no longer optional. It is essential for governments committed to equitable hiring, employee retention and to providing exceptional service to residents. We cannot do that unless we hire top candidates, and top candidates in key fields – particularly those in STEM, communications, marketing and law – will not be considering opportunities that do not offer remote work flexibility going forward.
In addition, remote work is a vital tool in our efforts to increase diversity and support inclusive hiring in government. And as municipal budgets become ever tighter and opportunities to increase salaries or offer other costly benefits diminish, remote work makes strong fiscal sense.
Here’s why it’s critical to go remote:
1. Remote work is a DEI issue.
Overwhelmingly, underrepresented groups, including women, people of color and those with disabilities, view remote work positively. Allowing staff to work from anywhere instantly increases the diversity of your candidate pool and removes obstacles to employment such as lack of personal transportation or availability or access to public transit. Talented candidates with neurodiverse conditions or those who rely on assistive equipment or technology may feel more comfortable working from home, and allowing them to do so may offer employers greater ease in attracting and accommodating these qualified and capable individuals.
In addition, historically white-male-driven work cultures and infrastructure have convinced many demographics to prefer remote work. Sixty-eight percent of women would prefer their workplace be remote, and 80% of women rank remote work as a top employee benefit. Only 3% of Black knowledge workers who worked remotely during the pandemic would like to fully return to the office.
In short, “the way we’ve always done” workplaces just doesn’t work for large groups of employees. Of course, we need to do the work internally and as part of our DEI strategies to change those cultures, but remote or hybrid work equalizes some of the imbalances in workplace cultures and is one tool in our toolbox of change.
2. Remote work is a strategy issue.
Do we want the best and brightest minds in local government in our organizations, or only those closest in proximity to city hall? While our work remains hyperlocal, our economy and talent pipelines are global. It is in the best interest of our residents to seek candidates for our opportunities that are the best in their fields.
However, the best may not live within driving distance of our headquarters, and that shouldn’t be a barrier to employment. Not only are we competing with private sector employers for talent, we’re competing against one another. To ensure we’re getting the best people to provide the best service, we have to open opportunities for remote work and allow candidates to meet us where they are.
With work from anywhere a reality, the coinciding reality is that we can hire candidates anywhere in the world who will be passionate, dedicated and excited by our communities, even if they don’t live there. The end result is high-level service and building stronger municipal teams. The more barriers we remove, the more qualified candidates we’ll receive, and the stronger our teams will become.
3. Remote work is a fiscal issue.
Government budgets are tight and increasing salaries to attract more candidates to our jobs is simply not always possible. Restrictive municipal budgets have resulted in decreased benefits and weakened our industry’s formerly strong upper hand in the hiring game. Remote work is a rare and unique benefit: It’s not only easy to implement, it’s a money saver for both employers and employees.
One study showed that if a company allowed an employee to work from home just half of the time, it would save on average $11,000 per employee. With staff remote, employers reduce overhead costs on facilities maintenance and consumable items. Long term, moving more staff to remote-work environments will allow municipalities to rethink their facilities management strategies and open up opportunities for workspaces with smaller square footages, coworking opportunities or facility consolidation, thus reducing capital burdens.
The financial bonus of remote work also benefits employees. It’s estimated that a remote employee would save between $2,000 and $7,000 annually. The income employees would otherwise spend on transportation, meals and attire to be in the office goes back into their pockets. While we can’t always increase salaries at the rate we might like, personal cost savings in the thousands of dollars are an attractive perk to highlight on total benefits statements.
The bottom line is that remote work works. Not only do employees want it, it plays a crucial role in the sustainability and vitality of 21st century organizations. Employers of choice have integrated work flexibility into their structures. Those that haven’t and continue to resist will continue to struggle with dissatisfied cultures and recruiting and retention challenges. Remote flexibility is an easy, essential benefit municipalities can adopt now to strengthen their workforces for the future.
Jenny Kosek is a writer and researcher based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She formerly served as an economic development specialist for West Allis, Wisconsin.