In the midst of this health crisis, a record number of people are working from home.  Private employers who have never contemplated a work-from-home policy are being forced to choose between allowing an employee to work from home or to shut down their business entirely, as governments across the country are ordering social isolation policies that prevent on-location work.  Companies that do decide to risk on-site work are also risking the spread of the virus within their business, which could lead to a complete shutdown and even bankruptcy.

Aside from the bankruptcy part, government agencies are no different.  While the federal government has not yet issued a work-from-home order as of publication time, many agencies expect such an order in the coming days.  The Federal Government has requested agencies use maximum flexibility in providing telework options.  Illinois and New Jersey have similarly told workers to work from home if possible, and many other state and local governments are sure to follow.

While many of these orders are already in place, what isn’t in place are the procedures to make the remote work process seamless.  Federal employees are frustrated with the lack of process and guidance as these orders are being made at an agency level, and it’s not likely to get much better when it becomes government-wide.  Obviously, the most important focus for agency heads is to make working from home a productive possibility – that requires computer networks to be configured to allow remote access, and it requires that employees have a way to conduct multi-participant meetings in an effective way remotely.

Another focus, however, should be determining which employees are working, and which aren’t.  Because many agencies didn’t have a work-from-home option before this weekend, they also didn’t have a way to audit time sheet submissions.  Many employees have kids who are stuck at home due to school closures.  Employees also face a chaotic, frustrating work-from-home process which will lead to productivity being more difficult than ever.  

This may lead a small minority of dishonest employees to try to cheat the taxpayer out of money by claiming they worked the entire week while only being at their computers a handful of hours a day.  This and other types of employee misconduct that might be enabled by a chaotic set of circumstances should be a primary focus of HR investigators.

While government HR groups are already working overtime to keep employees in the loop on all the changes that are happening, it’s also important to maintain integrity during this time.  If your agency doesn’t have a method to ensure that employees are working as claimed, the hours to come up with a process are fading rapidly.  Even a less-than-perfect process is better than nothing; it will help ensure that taxpayers are receiving attention from the public sector at the time they need it most.

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