Council mulls remote work pros, cons

Coupeville town council members debated how best to keep town employees accessible to the public.

Coupeville town council members debated how to keep town employees accessible to the public while affording them work-from-home opportunities.

During a Feb. 22 meeting, Mayor Molly Hughes, who was quick to acknowledge her apprehension with the idea, initiated the discussion in response to requests from some town hall staff. She said that while offering a work-from-home option would help keep Coupeville competitive with other employers, her biggest concern is that it would limit the public’s access to staff members.

The mayor said she feels working from home is a more viable option at large organizations that always have enough staff on hand to easily manage in-person tasks. It is also of greater benefit to employees who face a long commute. Neither is the case in Coupeville, where the town staff is small and most workers live close by.

“I saw it as a temporary adjustment for COVID, not a long-term, permanent perk for employees,” she told the council.

Still, with some town employees interested in working remotely, she suggested town hall staff whose jobs don’t necessitate their physical presence try working from home on Fridays, when town hall is already closed to the public. Any remote work beyond that would require careful scheduling to ensure there are always at least two staff members at town hall to receive the public, she said.

Clerk Treasurer Kelly Beech agreed.

“It would absolutely, without a doubt, have to be scheduled,” Beech said. “It would have to be scheduled. It could not be a free-for-all.”

Still, Beech supported the idea, saying that she felt she could get more done at home where she would not be interrupted by customers or other staff members coming over to chat or ask questions.

Her responsibilities often require strict concentration, and “having that time uninterrupted would be hugely beneficial,” she said.

Though council members ultimately agreed that town staff could work out whatever arrangements they saw fit without the council needing to take action, they spoke in favor of trying out some limited work-from-home options.

Councilmembers Pat Powell and Rick Walti both agreed with Beech’s assessment that working remotely can free employees from distraction and increase productivity.

Walti said he used to go to work a few hours before customers in need of service arrived and often found those to be the most productive hours of his day. He said giving staff the flexibility to work from home could be a boon to them, especially when they are up against a deadline or in the middle of a big project.

Powell said her employees also accomplished more while working remotely. Even those who chose to continue coming to the office got more done because there were fewer people around to distract them.

So long as the staff can work it out so that Coupeville residents can still have a good customer service experience at town hall, Powell said, she feels the possibility is worth exploring.

“I think it’s here to stay,” she said. “I think if you want to stay competitive, you’ve got to give allowances for that.”

Hughes said she would continue the discussion with staff members.