Audit report says Louisiana government struggled to accommodate remote work

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State government agencies had a hard time shifting to remote working during Gov. John Bel Edwards’ stay-at-home order to help control the spread of COVID-19, according to a Louisiana Legislative Auditor (LLA) report made public Monday.

While the order has been lifted, the report remains relevant. Edwards continues to urge government and private-sector employers to encourage working remotely when possible, and state officials responding to the audit said teleworking will be part of how state government does business even after the extended coronavirus emergency is over.

Most agencies did not have telework policies before the pandemic, and many workers had little experience with the practice, which made the transition to remote work more difficult once it was deemed necessary. The Legislative Auditor said 18 of 32 of agencies and offices surveyed had no telework policy, while only 16.3% of 9,582 employees reported teleworking on a regular or intermittent schedule before the pandemic.

Agencies did not consistently accommodate nonessential employees whose job duties could not be performed during telework, the auditor’s office said. Some agencies assigned employees duties that could be performed remotely, while others required employees to use leave time. To better prepare for telework in the future, agencies should identify how they will accommodate nonessential employees who cannot work remotely, the auditor said.

Technology challenges, such as inadequate equipment and connectivity problems, were the most common barrier to widespread telework. The LLA said 46 of 55 agency leaders and 4,525 (47.22%) of 9,582 employees reported technology issues.

“Best practices state that successful telework programs should ensure that employees not only have technology, such as laptops, but also tools conducive for collaboration, such as digital signature software, instant messaging platforms and web conferencing,” the LLA said.

Some supervisors said they struggled to maintain productivity while also balancing employee needs during the pandemic. Establishing clear expectations, providing training for supervisors, and creating telework agreements for workers would help ensure employees remain productive, the LLA said.

The state’s chief information officer and the director of State Civil Service endorsed the LLA’s recommendations.

“COVID-19 has required state agencies to reposition and rethink how the work of state government is performed, providing the opportunity to reshape the future of work,” State Civil Service Director Byron Decoteau said in a written response to the report. “Teleworking arrangements, while initially designed to accomplish social distancing measures to help combat COVID-19, is a valuable human resources tool that will continue to evolve alongside the future of work.”

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