City Hall has repeatedly tried to defend the city’s mandatory, full-time return to office buildings by declaring the need to get people back to their desks. But by continuing with a pre-pandemic idea of employment and ignoring the new workplace realities, this government is ultimately helping to clear the desks of the city’s workforce.
I often agree with the mayor when he speaks of the need to change strategies and tools in the fight against COVID-19 as the virus threat itself changes. However, by insisting on full-time personal work for all city employees and refusing to embrace a hybrid work model, he is waging an ancient war. Both employees and employers now know that remote working is not only possible, but in many cases even preferable. The city has the chance to lead the way. Instead, it quickly falls behind.
A May survey of 160 major employers found that only 8% of Manhattan workers were in the office five days a week, and despite pressure from the city, that number was expected to increase by just one percentage point in September. Employers are adapting and nearly 80% plan to move forward with a hybrid model. The administration is trying to steer in the wrong direction and the results are clear.
According to the latest data, the job vacancy rate of municipal employees in the city is 7.7%, more than five times higher than before the pandemic. These vacancies are not abstract. If not enough people are employed by the Home Preservation and Development department, houses can fall into disrepair and tenants will be left without recourse. When there is a shortage of civil rights lawyers, New Yorkers are vulnerable to discrimination. Without enough mental health professionals, people in crisis could reach out and find no one on the other end of the line.
Government has a responsibility to work for the well-being of the people it serves, and it can only do that when people are working – remotely, when needed. It’s true that commuting benefits the workplace economy, and remote working is good for an employee’s neighborhood. Hybrid achieves both.
While clearly not all municipal jobs have the potential for hybrid work – emergency services, sanitation, public transportation and others will always require physical presence, as do most public education jobs – exploring and enabling hybrid systems is essential for a safer city and stronger workforce.
The administration should immediately conduct a detailed assessment of municipal views, identify areas where hybrid models are feasible and implement them urgently where possible; my office is pursuing legislation to require this analysis. This week, a study found that hybrid work at a major tech company reduced employee turnover by a third. The longer we delay, the more people will leave a largely black-and-brown workforce for other opportunities with more flexible, adaptable, modern workplace policies.
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Hiring talented people and retaining their talent is critical to the short and long-term success of our city. The government’s mandate should be to attract people with the skills, inspiration and dedication necessary to serve New York.
The government has pressured this issue, praising the virtues of office work and reprimanding, reprimanding or firing anyone who flinched. But the answer to these concerns is not to teach, but to listen.
When City Hall sent an email to municipal employees urging a full in-person return, it included an implicit acknowledgment that options work remotely and both are effective for staying — a note that the memo would be followed by a Zoom meeting. .
To be clear, the lack of hybrid and remote work options is far from the only factor leading to an exodus of the city’s workforce. Lack of competitive salaries, slow hiring practices and general morale are all factors – but many of those factors predate the pandemic and this surge in job openings. Hybrid work is something we can change today by setting an example.
My office, as a non-mayor’s office, is currently remote. When we return to the office, it will be on a hybrid schedule. We recognize that our employees could be just as productive while working remotely, and we want to keep that option, that flexibility, so they can maintain a healthier work-life balance and provide the kind of framework we need to adapt to based on COVID peaks or other causes.
Embracing hybrid work is not a concession. Creating more modern, flexible workplaces does not diminish the urban image of ‘New York Tough’. But for an administration that has admirably put its own image on the ability to get things done, it’s time to focus more on having enough talented people to do the job, and less on where they do it. .
Williams is New York City’s public advocate.