City employees to begin returning to offices

Multnomah County

Mayor Ted Wheeler announces a 'soft reopen' on July 6 and hybrid work schedules in October.

Portland City Hall, May 18, 2021 (KOIN)

The Portland Tribune and Pamplin Media Group’s papers are a KOIN 6 News media partner

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Mayor Ted Wheeler has sent an email to all city employees telling those working from home to begin preparing to back to their offices.

“We have made one important decision: Going forward, the city of Portland supports blending in-person and remote work for employees who can perform some or all of their jobs outside a city facility,” reads the the June 17 email first reported by Willamette Week.

According to the email, Wheeler’s plan involves a “soft reopen” on July 6 that gives employees the opportunity to return to their offices on a voluntary basis.

By October a formal hybrid approach will kick in that involves a mix of office and remote work for employees who can do it. Each bureau will be responsible for determining the schedules for their employees.

“Understandably, many of you want to know how often you’ll be asked to report to a city facility and how much control you’ll have over your schedule. That will vary, based on business needs across bureaus,. Bureau directors will be working on those plans over the summer, with the goal of providing every employee with specific schedule information at least six weeks before they are asked to return,” Wheeler wrote.

According to the email, one reasons for returning to work is to help the downtown economy. Major city buildings — including City Hall, the Portland Building and the 1919 Building — are located in or near the parts of town most hurt by the pandemic and protests that turn violent.

“We must also consider and invest in the health of the city we serve, which is dependent on ensuring a vibrant and safe downtown core — and making connections with the community in each interaction, whether in person or through technology,” Wheeler wrote.

Local business leaders have urged the city to return its employees to their offices. Before the pandemic, nearly 3,000 city employees worked downtown, excluding those who worked at the Justice Center where the Portland Police Bureau is located and work has continued.

“We know that public sector employment is important for economic recovery of our Central City, so having our public partners lead by encouraging vaccines and encouraging a safe return to the office for their teams, will be that incremental boost we need towards economic recovery and revitalization of the heart of the Rose City,” Portland Business Alliance President and CEO Andrew Hoan told the Portland Tribune in May.

Wheeler admitted that some employees may be reluctant to return to work, however.

“I want to acknowledge that many employees feel uncertain about returning to a city facility, even part-time. You have asked a lot of important questions about public health, community safety and work-life balance,” Wheeler wrote.

A previous Portland Tribune story on the issue can be found here.

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