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South Jordan Journal

Something good from the pandemic: increased work flexibility for South Jordan employees

May 20, 2021 10:40AM ● By Mariden Williams

This graph shows the range of South Jordan employees’ responses to a survey question asking how much they liked teleworking. The survey had the most enthusiastic participation South Jordan’s HR department has ever seen. (South Jordan Communications)

By Mariden Williams | [email protected]

Though city buildings are returning to their pre-pandemic schedules and life is finally beginning to return to something like normal, teleworking is here to stay for many South Jordan city employees. Employees will be allowed to work from home as often as three days a week, if they want to. 

"While the pandemic has been hard for everyone, I am excited that something clearly helpful and welcomed by our employees came out of it," said Teresa Cook, South Jordan's human resources director. 

Before making the decision, South Jordan's HR department sent out a survey to 134 employees, asking about how they liked remote work and how it was affecting their productivity. The enthusiasm was remarkable: the survey had one of the highest and fastest participation rates Cook has ever seen, with 129 of the 134 employees responding, and all but five of those responses being returned in just four days.  

The survey found that 79% of remote employees like remote work at least a moderate amount, with 58% liking it a great deal. Another 47% reported improved work quality, while the remaining 53% reported the same level of work quality as onsite. These self-reported figures were backed up by supervisors, too: 67% of supervisors in all seven city departments reported that employees were equally or more productive working remotely as they had been when working in person.  

"The survey’s purpose was not only to get a pulse of our remote employees’ experience but also was key in helping us iron out some of the bugs with technology and understanding what tools employees needed to be do their jobs more effectively," Cook said. 

Of course, not all city employees are eligible for remote work; some jobs just have to be done in person. Even among eligible employees, the amount of allowable remote work varies, both by department and by individual job description. Currently, nobody is working remotely more than three days a week, but Cook indicated that in the future some jobs may be designated as full-time remote positions, which would save on costs and office space.

"This new normal allows for more flexibility in what’s allowable for employees in terms of work,” Cook said. “For example, an employee that works remotely may request to work from home where in the past they may have asked for time off, such as when they need to be home to let repair workers inside their home or if they have a sick child that needs to stay home from school. Managers have those extra tools now to help employees when there are ‘snow days’ or if they feel sick to allow them to stay home and work if they wish instead of losing that productivity completely."

South Jordan leaders have allowed city employees to work remotely in some capacity since 2014, but the program was far less developed then, and it was rarely used. 

"Now that it’s more flexible and robust; there is a marked increase of interest in the program, and we think it’s around to stay," Cook said.

According to Cook, South Jordan City Manager Gary Whatcott started pushing to expand the city's remote work program back in 2019, before the pandemic had hit Utah. Both elected officials and city staff were supportive of this idea, which gave the city a head start on perfecting its work-from-home strategy. 

Tari DeGraaff, South Jordan's risk analyst, was already part of this pre-pandemic telecommuting pilot program, in which she worked from home one day a week. 

"It was a very smooth transition for me as the pandemic escalated and our offices closed,” she said. “We have an awesome IT department who worked hard to make sure all our employees had the equipment and network access needed. Virtual meetings were rare before the pandemic, but now they have become a natural part of work. Technology keeps improving, and I’m excited to see where it goes. I understand not all positions have the capability to telework, but I feel incredibly fortunate to have the option to continue to telework. I appreciate the support from administration in supporting a home and work life balance. As an employee it makes me feel valued and trusted."