The pandemic showed that work-from-home arrangements are workable and often advantageous to many employers and employees. That includes state government employees, which is why an effort in the Missouri Legislature seeking to expand remote-work options for state employees makes sense.
There aren’t many global crises that fundamentally alter American society going forward. Arguably the only events of the past century that qualify were the Great Depression, World War II and, now, the pandemic. It clearly will be ranked at that level of epochal importance. America’s economy, its politics, health care, social habits and more have been transformed in ways that are unlikely to revert to previous form anytime soon, if ever.
For average Americans, the changes in how we work have been especially profound. Working remotely, a relatively rare luxury before the pandemic, suddenly became, for millions of workers and their employers, a necessity.
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Obviously, a great many types of work don’t lend themselves to being done from a table at home. But a great many do, especially in the bureaucratic enclaves of government. At one point earlier in the pandemic, an estimated 25% of Missouri’s state workers were performing their jobs remotely. How those various workers and their supervisors experienced that arrangement no doubt ran the gamut between good, bad and indifferent. But for many employees, it opened new quality-of-life possibilities, while many of their bosses no doubt saw an opportunity for increased efficiency.
Another effect of the pandemic has been to shine light on aspects of society’s infrastructure that are lacking. Many workers in Missouri who might’ve been eligible to work remotely weren’t able to efficiently do it because internet availability isn’t as reliable in some areas of the state as it should be. That and other issues would be part of the agenda for a new “Missouri State Employee Work-From-Anywhere Task Force” proposed in legislation by Rep. Louis Riggs, R-Hannibal.
The task force would include members from the Legislature, government departments and the technology industry. They would come up with policies aimed at enabling many state workers to work remotely — not just in emergency situations like a pandemic, but permanently. A crucial part of that endeavor would be other pending legislation addressing Missouri’s broadband weaknesses, an effort that should be made easier with the current availability of federal dollars.
Whether most workers who can work from home should is a broader debate, one that necessarily involves issues like employee collaboration and the sense of community that office culture can bring. But just as the charm of the horse and buggy wasn’t going to prevent the transformative rise of the automobile, the argument can be made that, like it or not, a significant — and permanent — work-from-home culture is the reality of the post-pandemic future. The more Missouri government prepares for that future, the better.
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