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Can Emergency Management Utilize Remote Employees?

Can Emergency Management Utilize Remote Employees?

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Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on EDM Digest.

By Dr. Randall HanifenFaculty Member, Emergency & Disaster Management at American Military University 

A news article from CNBC indicates that many of the largest companies are examining the possibility of not returning workers to their offices, but instead allowing those employees to work from home permanently. This strategy would have both advantages and disadvantages to employers and employees.

Technology Has Made It Much Easier for Remote Work

In the past, most offices contained piles of paperwork and filing cabinets to store all business records. But within in the past 20 years, electronic records have become the norm.

[Related: Handling the Future Outcome of the Coronavirus Pandemic]

For instance, a homeowner can create an electronic signature for a home mortgage, and the manual for my car is now a PDF file. Gone are the days of large binders and rooms full of filing cabinets.

However, due to this change to electronic records, we need faster computers. Many workers also prefer to have multiple monitor screens.

But businesses have other technology needs as well. Most offices need a printer and scanner for the few records that do not arrive or leave in electronic format. The other need is connectivity to the web through routers and internet service providers.

Work from Home Advantages for Employees

The biggest advantage to the employee in regard to remote work  is the decrease in financial costs on the daily commute, as well as the time saved. The lack of a daily commute means that drivers save money on gas and car repairs.

Similarly, no daily commute saves time for employees. When the workday is complete, for instance, you are already home. You no longer have to leave earlier than needed to anticipate the traffic jam from an accident.

Depending on the job, you can combine any household tasks with your work schedule. You can do the laundry or run the dishwasher as you work, so you don’t have to sit at home on the weekend and wait for the washing machine to finish a load of laundry.

Work from Home Advantages to Employers

Having remote employees who work from home is also beneficial to employers. For instance, two of the largest expenses of most companies with an office is the rental cost and the cost of normal business operations. In many cities, these expenses can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

The next advantage to the employer is the ability to hire the best workers in any location worldwide, versus hiring employees from a specific geographic area or needing to ask employees to move to the area that houses the company office.

Many talented individuals have a desire to enjoy a work-life balance that involves living in a certain geographic area. If you enjoy the warmth and sunshine of Arizona, for example, you are not likely to take a job in New York City. If an organization only hires people situated near the company office, they could lose out on acquiring talented employees.

Work from Home Disadvantages for Employees and Employers

Although convenient, working from home has its disadvantages for both employees and employers. One disadvantage is available space for working. While some people are fortunate to have a dedicated office space in their homes, many may not have a room designed for at-home working.

Fortunately, the cost of transforming a room into an office are often not overly expensive. For instance, I converted the formal living room in my house to an office for only $2,000. This renovation included doors and closing off a wall opening.

Another disadvantage is that the employer may not cover an employee’s operating expenses. Those costs include Wi-Fi and other electronic products needed to work from home, such as a printer, scanner, copier, and phone.

While these expenses may seem like a lot, an employee working from home saves money on parking, tolls, gas, and other work-related expenses involved in travel to work. As a result, the costs of working from home versus commuting to an office may offset each other. Additionally, as employers compete for top talent, many businesses may elect to have an electronics allowance to entice new employees.

Work from home disadvantages to employers include an inability to get to personally know their employees and the lack of impromptu conversations that often lead to the best ideas. If your entire management team is remote, managers will not be able to supervise employees by walking around. Creating a personal connection by talking to line employees, for instance, is very important as the happiness and connectedness of employees is heavily tied to company success.

Incorporating Work from Home Employees into Emergency Management and Services

There are ways for work from home employees to be incorporated into emergency management. While the majority of employees in emergency management and emergency services are shift workers who cannot telework, there is a need for employees who can handle back-end logistics and project management. This work gives first responders the programs and tools they need to be the best providers for the community, and it could be performed by remote employees living in virtually any location.

[Related: Coronavirus and a Stressed Emergency Management System]

For instance, remote work means that you do not need to hire an administrative chief from your own organization. Instead, you can hire a retired chief or two from another area who can fill the position and do the work that others in your organization would not desire to do.

Possibly the biggest advantage to first responder organizations is the ability to increase work flexibility for administrative personnel. One of the biggest issues that organization in emergency services suffer from is attracting the best talent to the 40-hour positions.

When compared to the 24-hour/48-hour shift schedule common in emergency management, an employee’s work/life balance is destroyed and that deters many people from taking these positions. Remote working and a flexible schedule, however, would be a big incentive to attracting top talent.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused many changes to emergency management and services, but it has also revealed new opportunities. Hiring the top talent who are willing to work from home — from any location — could be a useful way to provide even better customer service.

remoteAbout the Author: Dr. Randall W. Hanifen is a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area and a fire service consultant. He is also a faculty member at American Military University, teaching courses in its Emergency & Disaster Management program. He has a B.S. in Fire Administration, a M.S. in Fire Service Executive Leadership, and a Ph.D. in Executive Management of Homeland Security. He is the associate author of Disaster Planning and Control. Randall serves as the Executive Chairperson of a County Technical Rescue Team, a Taskforce Leader for FEMA’s Ohio Task Force 1 US&R team, and is the Vice-Chair of IAFC Company Officers Section. He serves as a member of NFPA 1021 Fire Officer and NFPA 1026 Incident Management committees He is credentialed as a Fire Officer by the Center for Public Safety Excellence and has been accepted as a Fellow to the Institute of Fire Engineers. Randall has provided presentations and trainings for the Ohio Fire Chief’s Association, Fire Rescue International, Emergency Management Institute, and the IAFC Board of Directors. 

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