Philadelphia, other cities cut back on remote work, but maintain COVID-era digital infrastructure

Philadelphia Mayor Cheryl Parker announced Monday that all city employees will have to return full-time to work in the office this summer, ending the city's remote work policy, which has been in place since June 2021.

The shift to remote work as an option following the COVID-19 pandemic was a lifeline for many government employees across the country several years ago. The increase in remote work led to cities enhancing their cybersecurity protocols and establishing virtual private networks in an effort to make remote work possible and secure.

Philadelphia was one of the local governments that struggled to erect the digital infrastructure needed to keep workers on the job while maintaining social distancing protocols. And while the mayor's announcement is in line with the national trend of bringing remote workers back into the office, city officials told StateScoop that the use of COVID-era digital infrastructure is not going anywhere.

Philadelphia's new office requirements go into effect July 15.

As part of its efforts to make remote work possible, the Philadelphia city government required employees to follow strict security measures, such as using multi-factor authentication, connecting to the city network via a VPN, and taking cybersecurity training. For the city's Office of Innovation and Technology, some of these measures are still critical to operations, an OIT spokesperson said.

“Regardless of any specific in-office versus remote work policy, a lot of work must still be done remotely because some OIT is a 24/7 operation. Therefore, whatever infrastructure we have created during the pandemic is still critical for the functioning of the office,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “The infrastructure we have built during the pandemic, and the ability to work remotely, will undoubtedly be important in the future when we face any other challenges, health-related or otherwise, that will require remote working “

As of Parker's announcement, most city employees were already working in offices. The announcement said approximately 80% of the city's workforce worked entirely on-site or in the office through 2023, and the remaining 20% ​​worked on-site approximately 31 hours out of a two-week pay period.

Following Philadelphia's policy change, many cities are moving back or changing their remote work policies for employees. At the beginning of the year, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that the District's government would shift from two remote work days per week to just one day per week. Baltimore has limited city employees to a maximum of two remote work days per week this year.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams took the city in the opposite direction, announcing in October that his administration would expand a remote work pilot program that allows employees to work from home two days per week. The move contrasts with Adams' previous call for private companies to bring their employees back to offices, citing the impact on service-oriented businesses that cater to office workers.

“It's time to get back to work,” Adams said at the 2022 New York State Democratic Convention. “You can't tell me you're afraid of COVID on Monday and I see you in a nightclub on Sunday.”

Keely Quinlan

Written by Keely Quinlan

Keeley Quinlan reports on privacy and digital government for StateScoop. She was an investigative news reporter at Clarksville Now in Tennessee, where she lives, and her coverage included local crime, courts, public education and public health. Her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Stereogum, and other outlets. He earned a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in social and cultural analysis from New York University.

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