City Employees to Return to Office With Help from ARPA Funds

Baltimore City will spend $5 million in ARPA funding to get employees in the office at least three days a week.

Starting in 2024, Baltimore City employees working remotely since the COVID-19 pandemic will be asked to return to in-office work at least three days a week. Beginning January 2 of the new year, City staff will be able to telework for a maximum of two days per week, a change from the City’s flexible pandemic hybrid work environment. According to The Baltimore Sun, the policy change will affect about 2,000 of the City’s 14,000 employees.

From a Baltimore City press release:

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Baltimore City pivoted to a maximum telework posture to accommodate the immediate public health crisis. As Baltimore City adapts in this latest stage of the pandemic, the city is making additional updates to the hybrid work environment to encourage city employees to increase their time spent in physical office spaces. The update to the telework policy is designed to allow agencies to continue to use telework as a tool in talent recruitment, retention, and to accommodate building space limitations, while increasing meaningful in-person work.

Effective Tuesday, January 2, 2024, city government agencies and departments can schedule employees for telework up to two days per week. Over the next 90 days, the Scott Administration will:

  • Submit an updated telework policy from the Department of Human Resources (DHR) to the Board of Estimates (BOE) for review and approval.
  • Release an expanded telework request form to allow employees to request expanded telework to accommodate building space limitations, recruitment and retention needs, etc.
  • Work with DHR to analyze and create titles best suited for remote work.
  • Finalize an enterprise-wide building and workspace consolidation plan developed by the Department of General Services (DGS).
  • Provide employees with access to technological updates from the Baltimore City Information Technology (BCIT) Department that will increase staff efficiency during hybrid work, and ensure that city employees are accessible to residents regardless of their location.

The City’s new policy will allow for some exceptions, according to a more detailed memo:

  • Agencies and employees can request expanded telework schedules (more than two days a week) to accommodate building space limitations, recruitment and retention needs, etc. An expanded telework request form will be provided to agencies by November 6, 2023, and further guidance will be provided thereafter.

The memo, signed by new City Chief Administration Officer Faith P. Leach, reads:

I want to acknowledge that return to work does not mean returning to the status quo of all staff on site 100 percent of the time. As Mayor Scott and I reimagine how government operates best for the city’s residents and the workforce, we continue to see this as an opportunity. Agencies are generally expected to increase meaningful in-person work while continuing to use flexible operational policies such as telework as an important tool in talent recruitment and retention and/or advancing agency space utilization and optimization plans.

The efficient and effective delivery of city services will remain our ‘north star.’ This requires that every city employee is responsive (minimally acknowledging receipt of emails and phone calls within 24 hours or by the next business day) and demonstrates the highest level of professionalism when communicating with colleagues and the public. Standardizing remote work across our city enterprise will move us steadfastly towards our ‘north star.’

Alongside the new telework policy, Baltimore will use $5 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to “upgrade conference rooms across City offices to be capable of hybrid work.”

Recent labor reporting suggested that flexibility, including robust telework opportunities, is critical for employers, especially the public sector, to hire and retain workers in the new, post-COVID work environment.

Now, government employers at all levels are considering ending hybrid work plans and alternate schedules launched during the pandemic. This move may make the public sector workforce crisis worse.

Wise public agencies should think carefully before discarding their COVID-era work plans. After all, flexible work options not only improve recruitment and hiring success, but they boost employee productivity, satisfaction and empowerment, reduce attrition and absenteeism, save money, and expand the talent pool, according to a Global Workplace Analytics study.

Details of Baltimore City’s final updated plan are forthcoming.