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Vermont state offices reopening but not all employees returning in person

Published: Nov. 1, 2021 at 3:11 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Thousands of Vermont state employees are headed back to the office for the first time since the start of the pandemic, but not everyone is giving up their telecommute.

It’s move-in day for Sheila Sayha-- again. Sayah is back at her state office after spending the last year and a half working from home.

“It definitely had its ups and downs,” Sayah said. “I didn’t have my standing workstation, and that was kind of tough.”

Down the hall, Harold Schwartz says he has mixed feelings about returning to the office, balancing his 30-minute commute with the benefits of in-person interactions.

“I like seeing the people in the office, so that’s nice, too,” Schwartz said.

Monday marked the transition for state employees from informal to formal telework policies. Most employees, like Schwartz and Sayah, were required to return to the office. But workers could petition to remain remote. As of Friday, 2,800 state employees, or about 30%, were formally approved for telework. Many opted for a hybrid model, averaging about three days a week remotely.

“How do you do it when some people are in the office and remote. How does that work? How do you continue to be productive? How do you manage that?” Vt. Human Resources Commissioner Beth Fastiggi said.

But not everyone is lining up to return to the office.

“Our members have done an extraordinary job keeping the state government afloat in the midst of a crisis,” said Steve Howard of the Vermont State Employees Association.

The VSEA wants to push back the deadline until Jan. 1 to let delta run its course and to let kids get the shot.

“I think a lot of people are concerned about what happens when kids are quarantined and they don’t have child care. I don’t know how that’s going to work under the governor’s policy,” Howard said.

Fastiggi says safety is top of mind for those back at the office. More than 88% of state employees are vaccinated and the unvaccinated have to mask up and get tested.

“If there is an incident where an employee has to stay home where their child may have to quarantine, a supervisor has the flexibility to say if you can telework, telework. Otherwise, you would take a sick day,” Fastiggi said.

Across Vermont, the pandemic is opening new doors to rethinking what the American workplace should look like and how it should work, and mulling over the pros and cons-- like the climate benefits of keeping commuters off the road, the economic damage on Montpelier and Waterbury, and the future of all of those unused offices.

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