Borough officials rethinking traditional work setting

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many employers, including municipalities, to rethink the traditional work setting, paving the way for employees to work remotely.

Naugatuck officials are in discussions to continue this practice, even after the pandemic is over.

“We’re looking at the possibility of allowing some employees to continue working on a hybrid basis where they will be allowed to continue working remotely,” Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said.

Hess is in discussions with the two unions that represent supervisors as well as clerks and administrative assistants about changing contract language to permit a hybrid, remote-work setting. The hybrid method would allow employees to work remotely sometimes and in person other times, subject to the approval of department heads, Hess said.

“Essentially we want to be more efficient and have a better work product in all departments,” Hess said. “In some departments, we can achieve that with some remote working.”

Hess said a hybrid schedule would be determined by department on a case-by-case basis.

For example, Hess said, employees in the finance department can do their jobs from home, and they’ve shown they can do so while providing the same or better production.

Workers at the tax collector’s office will have to be in Town Hall to collect taxes, he said.

Hess said the talks with the unions could be finished by the end of the year.

“We’re working cooperatively with the unions and each department to try and provide a higher level of service for the public,” Hess said.

Naugatuck Assistant Tax Collector Louise Sheedy, president of the Chapter 90 union that represents supervisors, said she thinks the possible changes are great but the union hasn’t had the chance to discuss it much.

“Times have changed and I do think hybrid is the way,” Sheedy said. “I don’t think anybody is opposed to it.”

Naugatuck Fire Department administrative assistant Kelli Sargeant, president of the Chapter 89 union that represents clerical employees, agreed with Sheedy.

“It would be much better to do it that way,” Sargeant said. “I agree with the efficiency.”

Hess said the borough is also looking to provide more computer training for employees to offer more services readily online or over the phone for residents, and offer evening hours at Town Hall once a week.

Beacon Falls and Prospect officials are not thinking about offering a remote-work option after the pandemic.

“Not even on our radar,” Beacon Falls First Selectman Gerard Smith said.

Smith said town officials are prepared to go remote if the COVID-19 pandemic calls for it.

“We can go to remote in a day’s notice and as long as we have the ability to go remote, that’s all I need,” Smith said.

Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said town officials aren’t considering it at this time either.

“Nobody has talked about that,” Chatfield said. 

The borough is following the lead of the private sector.

Diane Mokriski, employment law counsel for the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said trends indicate remote working is here to stay in the private sector.

“The companies have a likelihood to continue this after the pandemic,” Mokriski said. “I think a lot of companies will continue that new way of work.”

Remote working for employees varies by industry, Mokriski said. She said there some large Hartford law firms that are mostly or entirely remote. Businesses, such as consulting services or sales, don’t need employees to be in person compared to the manufacturing sector, she said.

“In sales, all you need is a phone and a computer, and working from home makes a lot of sense,” Moriski said.