In 1st in-person meeting, county commissioners discuss proposed work-from-home policy |

In 1st in-person meeting, county commissioners discuss proposed work-from-home policy

After being a necessity during the pandemic, officials hope the policy could be an employee perk, improving work-life balance and job satisfaction.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners returned to its hearing room Monday, the first public meeting the county has held in-person in well over a year. Meetings are still available online and are recorded by a 360 degree camera that focuses on the people who are speaking. (Photo by Dylan Anderson)

The Routt County Board of Commissioners is back in the hearing room it vacated when the pandemic sent the world home in March 2020 — and the public is welcome to attend, too.

Meetings have been held virtually on Zoom for well over a year, something commissioners have said spurred more public participation in meetings. The return to face-to-face conversations among county leaders — without masks for those who are vaccinated — has been in the works for weeks.

“It was exciting; it was kind of grounding,” said Commissioner Tim Redmond, who was taking part in his first public meeting as a commissioner. “I’m looking forward to developing that routine, something comfortable that I can cling to.”

Part of the agenda Monday was a work-from-home policy for county employees.

Commissioner Beth Melton said morale around the historic Routt County Courthouse has people excited to be working back in person, and the county is still public-facing, meaning many employees simply cannot do their job from home. Still, Melton said the county should be flexible because working from home can prove crucial for some, as it has for Melton.

“There have been two times in my life where I would have had to leave my job if I couldn’t work from home,” Melton said. “One was when my son was born, and I didn’t have child care for six months, and the other was during the pandemic when he had nowhere to go.”

Before the pandemic, the county generally allowed employees to work from home for some things, like a sick child or a snowstorm that made the trek to the office treacherous.

The draft policy is much more extensive, laying out a multi-page agreement between the employee and county to ensure they still get work done. But the policy hopes to offer county employees another perk of the job: enhancing their work-life balance and maybe even serving as a way to lure talented people to work for the county.

The city of Steamboat Springs rolled out its new remote-work policy last week, with one significant caveat.

“We just told the employees, ‘expect this to change,’” said Steamboat City Manager Gary Suiter. “This is a grand, national, social experiment for many employers.”

Many city employees won’t be able to take advantage of this policy, Suiter said, but for those who can, it hopes to offer more flexibility that some have grown accustom to during the pandemic.

Commissioners had a lengthy discussion parsing out various aspects of the policy, such as what technology needs employees have at home, what requirements there will be around watching children while also working and how the county bureaucracy would approve an employee working from home.

“The success or failure of this policy is going to be incumbent on the department heads,” said interim County Manager Mark Collins.

Collins said he was comfortable with this policy also applying to department heads, but if the child care or technology situation isn’t going to work, then an employee working from home consistently is unlikely. The county is trying to balance allowing department heads be a significant factor in the decision, while preventing them from giving a blanket no to working from home.

There is also a question of how a policy like this could change how department heads are able to monitor the productivity of their employees and how the review process is handled.

“It is a productivity concern for me,” said County Assessor Gary Peterson. “Every single one of my staff is looking forward to doing this two days a week.”

Even though the various assessors work relatively independently already, and the system they use allows them to track progress throughout the day, Peterson said he still wasn’t sure the best way to monitor employees’ productivity.

Ensuring staff have the equipment they need to do their job at home is one sticking point for Robert Felinczak, information systems director for the county. Depending on how much an employee works at home, he said they may need different equipment, and depending on where home is, there may not be good enough internet to do their job.

There are other concerns, like what happens if an employee falls or is hurt while working from home, how much notice they need to get if working from home is no longer an option and how many of the county’s staff are interested in working from home.

“We just simply don’t have the resources to make this work for everybody 100% of the time,” said County Attorney Erick Knaus.

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