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Even with California reopening on June 15, many state workers will stick to teleworking

"Telework is going to be a permanent part of our work lives going forward," Eraina Ortega, California Human Resources Director said in a staff memo.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Looking ahead to the California state reopening date of June 15, many state workers won’t be coming back in the same way they did, prior to the pandemic. 

“It’s definitely still a little quiet," Ernesto Delgado, owner of Mayahuel on K Street said.

With somewhat empty light rails, for lease signs up on state buildings around town and still, not a lot of foot traffic, downtown Sacramento is missing the state workers that once filled these now-quiet office buildings.

“Of course it’s empty but not empty like the first day the pandemic happened, so I see more and more people walking on the street now, I am one of them!” Hung Bui, a state employee said.

But with the state’s reopening date on June 15, ABC10 wanted to know when the hustle and bustle of downtown might be truly coming back.

So we took that question to the people in charge of where state employees work at, CalHR. They tell us, the pandemic has so fundamentally changed things, that downtown might never get back to the way it used to be.

"Telework is going to be a permanent part of our work lives going forward," Eraina Ortega, California Human Resources Director said in a staff memo.

And maybe that’s ok since it gives state workers like Bui more flexibility. 

"For me, working from home three days, going to the office two days a week is the best option for me now," Bui said.

But it also hurts business owners like Ernesto Delgado of Mayahuel on K Street.

"My restaurant went from 55 employees down to 3," Delgado said.

He says things are slowly starting to pick back up again and he’s back to about 20 to 25 employees now. 

"We need activity, we need people to come back to work so that we can survive," he said. “Otherwise, we’re going to end up with boarded-up windows which is not a beautiful sight."

Read the full memo that went out to state workers from California Human Resources Director Eraina Ortega below:

Dear Colleagues,

With vaccinations increasing and infection rates declining, state employees are starting to ask when they can come back to the office. Keeping health and safety at the forefront, the Administration’s direction continues to be that we aim to keep employees eligible for telework on a telework schedule. Each department needs to assess the appropriate level of telework that it will maintain, based on operational needs and employee safety. Please continue to refer to the December 18, 2020 CalHR guidance on the Emergency Temporary Standards from Division of Occupational Safety & Health (Cal/OSHA).

The Administration continues to support telework as a long-term strategy to decrease office space, allow more flexibility for employees, and provide resiliency in the case of future emergencies that may require people to work outside the office. You should be thinking now about what kind of work culture you want to establish in the near future. Many employees will want to continue to telework, although some will want to work remotely only part-time, so it’s important to consider hybrid offices, and what changes might be needed to manage a hybrid workplace, such as a hoteling strategy or how to improve communication with a distributed staff and institutionalize ways to collaborate more effectively. It is important for departments to think about how we can effectively and fairly manage staff, regardless of where they work.

Telework is going to be a permanent part of our work lives going forward. It is up to us to capture the broader, longer-term benefits of integrating telework into the way we do our business. You might consider how to capture these benefits in terms of providing more flexibility for employees, reaching out to a larger geographic area for job candidates, consolidating your real estate footprint and reducing carbon emissions. The Telework Dashboard on telework.govops.ca.gov provides an idea of how profound these opportunities might be, if we take them. Additionally, we plan to convene leaders across our state departments and agencies in a virtual session to share their experience in planning and implementing these changes.

CalHR offers training that can help, and more training and tools are available on telework.govops.ca.gov. The Government Operations Agency, with CalHR and the Department of General Services have formed a working group of executives and senior managers to develop recommendations on what changes will be required to sustain a flexible, hybrid model over the long term.

Many of you have asked about the status of the draft Telework Policy. It still is in the process of negotiations with the state’s bargaining units. We don’t expect this process to be completed until later this Spring. In the meantime, the emergency telework policy continues to be in effect. More information is available on telework.govops.ca.gov.

If you have not conducted an employee engagement survey or are not currently doing “pulse” surveys, please consider getting some feedback from your employees about their telework experience. This will help you make decisions going forward. In conducting employee surveys, work closely with your labor relations advisors to ensure compliance with labor contracts and rules. We also plan to introduce more telework training in the near future for supervisors and managers. I’ll be in touch again to let you know about those opportunities.

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