Travis County plans for large part of its workforce to continue working from home permanently

Travis County

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County leaders say they hope to keep 75% of county employees who are able to work from home in permanent teleworking positions, following the pandemic.

Of the county’s roughly 5,000 employees, about 3,000 may qualify.

“We’ve been conducting this unintentional experiment for the last two months, and we’re seeing how effective it is,” Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea told KXAN.

According to Shea, this would not include about 1,200 employees who work in law enforcement for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. Also not included: about 800 other employees who cannot work from home, like those at the Medical Examiner’s and County Clerk’s Offices and those who work at community centers.

On Tuesday, county auditors told county commissioners that productivity has increased since more than 2,500 county employees began working from home in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Commissioners say teleworking has in large part solved many of the county’s issues with traffic congestion.

“The number one subject that everybody complained about in Austin prior to the pandemic was traffic, and overnight we literally solved the traffic congestion problems,” Shea said.

They also cited a recent CAPCOG report which found some pollution levels went down when a large number of Travis County residents began working from home.

According to that report, “Data collected at Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ’s) local air pollution monitoring stations show lower concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone (O3) during the last two weeks of March 2020 than were observed during the same two weeks of March from 2017-19.”

Shea says when Travis County recently took an inventory of air pollution, it found that employees commuting to work is the second highest cause of greenhouse gas emmissions county-wide, behind electicity usage.

Shea says in addition to those benefits, it’s important for local agencies and businesses to consider extending teleworking, at least for a while, due to uncertainty surrounding COVID-19’s lingering effects.

“We do know that the virus is going to be with us until we find a vaccine, and all the experts have said at the earliest, that’s a year or more away,” Shea said.

She adds that the county’s decision to have nearly half of its employees telework will not only benefit those employees.

“If the public is able to do a transaction online instead of walking into a place and standing in line with other people and potentially getting infected from other people, you’ve solved that problem by shifitng that work online,” Shea said. “And we’ve able to do that with a lot of county operations– things people would need from the county. A great deal of that has been shifted online.”

The City of Austin and the Austin Chamber of Commerce also tell KXAN they’re looking into various options when it comes to employees teleworking in the future. According to the Chamber of Commerce, some local businesses are considering the shift, as well.

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