Wheeler: Remote city employees must be in offices 1/2 time
The 40% of Portland city employees working remotely would need to spend at half of their regular hours a week in their offices, under a new policy announced by Mayor Ted Wheeler.
Although 60% of city employees have been at their job sites full time throughout the pandemic, most of the rest currently have to be in the office just one day a week. Wheeler has now said all but a few must return to at least half-time in-person work next April.
"This model brings our workforce together half-time, which will improve the daily services we offer to Portlanders, and better ensures a successful implementation of charter changes Portlanders enthusiastically approved. We need 'all hands on deck' for the next 24 months as we navigate through the transition," Wheeler said in a Wednesday, Dec. 7 announcement.
Wheeler said the change was done in consultation with city employees to meet their needs.
"We've heard from city employees loud and clear, and this approach provides maximum flexibility for in-person collaboration, while rising to the significant challenges we face and transformation the City is undergoing," Wheeler said.
The change is expected to meet resistance, however. In a survey of employees working remotely released in July, the majority of city employees working remotely would consider quitting if they are required to come to the office more than two days a week.
Of the 3,447 employees who responded to the survey, 64% are currently working hybrid schedules and 8% are exclusively remote. According to the survey, of those workers:
• About 34% of hybrid respondents say they would consider applying for other jobs if the city required more than one day per week of on-site work. If the city required more than two days per week of on-site work, 64% would look for work elsewhere.
• About 38% of remote workers with exceptions say they would consider applying for other jobs if the city required them to perform any on-site work. If the city required more than one day per week of on-site work, 73% of remote workers with exceptions would look for work elsewhere.
Wheeler's announcement comes as city and business leaders are working to revitalize the downtown core, where the economy has been hurt by the lack of full-time employees, increased homelessness, and occasional protest violence and vandalism.
But few employees believe that helping to revitalize downtown businesses suffering economically is a reason to return to the office, according to the survey.
"There is overwhelming sentiment that while city employees enjoy playing a part in a vibrant citywide economy, workplace decisions should not be based on that possibility. Respondents by and large said that they should not be placed in the position of being seen as a vehicle for economic stimulus — as many of them have their own financial issues as well," the survey said.
Other topics mentioned in the survey included concerns about workplace and downtown safety, concerns about COVID-19 outbreaks, and micro-aggressions experienced by people of color and LGBTQIA+ employees.
Although the City Council has been meeting in person at City Hall, the split schedules adopted during the pandemic have continued, despite the Portland Building receiving a $195 million renovation more than two years ago. A previous Portland Tribune story on the renovation can be found here.
The survey can be found here.
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