A bill requiring state and local governments to develop plans for teleworking and encouraging private businesses to do so will likely reach the House of Delegates’ floor next week.
Del. Carol Krimm (D-Frederick), sponsor of House Bill 73, is hopeful the legislation will make it through both chambers this session and to Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) desk.
The bill requires municipal and county governments to establish teleworking policies and guidelines and those in several state government agencies to do the same.
Krimm said this week the coronavirus pandemic has shown a lot of state employees and businesses can get work done through teleworking versus in a typical office space.
It also could have benefits of getting more cars off the road, which might lessen the traffic burden on roads like Interstate 270 and reduce traffic emissions, Krimm said.
“There’s many people in state government who are loving life right now because they’re able to telework, and they’re getting their work done,” Krimm said. “And it’s a recruiting mechanism for state government also, to be able to offer people telework if it’s available for their job.”
Rick Weldon, president and CEO of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, which represents about 42,000 full-time employees in hundreds of businesses, estimated roughly half have transitioned to a form of teleworking since the pandemic started.
Weldon was concerned about proposed amendments to the bill, including one that would require small businesses provide a plan to state government about teleworking before year’s end.
Krimm said via text Friday those amendments did not stay in the bill, which the Appropriations Committee passed Friday in a nearly unanimous vote. Del. Nino Mangione (R-Baltimore) and Del. Reid Novotny (R-Howard and Carroll) were the only votes against.
Currently, the bill would set up an office that would work with businesses statewide to develop “best practices” for teleworking and require the governor to allocate $1 million in grants to help businesses transition, including for software and hardware upgrades.
Jennifer Hess Williamson, director of operations at Business Management Company (BMC), an accounting firm located by the Frederick Municipal Airport, agreed that legislation that incentivizes teleworking — versus mandating it — is a better approach.
Williamson said about 35 employees work on the accounting side, with another 10 in the insurance portion of the business. Even though a lot of work can be done from home or elsewhere, many small businesses that work with BMC still prefer paper checks or in-person interactions when conducting business.
Last March, the office had a major flood, so workers had to telework regardless of the pandemic. There are, however, long-term benefits for employees working from home, regardless of the coronavirus pandemic, she said.
Williamson herself doesn’t battle much traffic driving from Loudoun County, Virginia. But she does understand the appeal from both a commuting and environmental standpoint.
BMC’s employees live all over, including, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., Williamson said.
“It’s a great benefit to tell people you can work from home,” she said.
Weldon, however, said it’s trickier for some industries to do that, including biopharmaceutical and manufacturing companies.
Peter Oykhman, founder of CorePartners, an information technology company in downtown Frederick, said some of the work, like software development, is difficult to do unless you have co-workers collaborating in the same space.
Some of the company’s roughly 20 employees, like those in sales, can more easily adapt to remote work, he said. Regarding government assistance, Oykhman said it would have been nice to have that money months ago as his and other businesses were adjusting to working from home.
There’s also another potential cost to having everyone telework — the mental health of employees.
“We had, frankly speaking, people who were severely depressed doing work from home, and that was a problem — and is still a problem,” Oykhman said.