County explores hiring remote workers to fill open positions
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County explores hiring remote workers to fill open positions

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived to Cook County two years ago, remote work paved the way for some local employers and workers to balance public health recommendations and the basic concept of getting work done on time.

As Cook County’s COVID positivity rate continues to decline in late March, the idea of working remotely continues to appeal to some employees and their employers. In fact, the concept of hiring remote workers might become essential to retain or hire workers in some fields, including local government.

This notion surfaced during a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, March 22. Highway Engineer Robbie Hass explained to the commissioners that due to the lack of available housing in Cook County, and the fact job openings are going unfilled at the highway department, it could be time to consider hiring remote workers who do not live in the community. To be specific, Hass suggested some workers hired by the county might not live anywhere near the North Shore or surrounding region.

The idea spurred conversation among the commissioners and county staff about addressing a lack of workers available to fill various jobs where an office, desk and computer would be the typical setting. The commissioners did not take any specific action regarding a policy to hire workers who do not live in Cook County during the March 22 meeting.

During a conversation with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs following the board meeting, County Administrator James Joerke emphasized there have not been any formal internal discussions about drafting a policy that would enable an arrangement such as the one the highway engineer suggested. That being the case, Joerke said the idea could be worth exploring.

“We’ve had a lot of turnover in the last year especially. And we’ve had a number of positions that have remained vacant for months at a time,” Joerke said. “And that that does relate to the challenges that all your listeners know about related to our housing, where there just isn’t a lot of housing available currently, and what is available, is not necessarily affordable for most folks. And so that makes it really challenging. If even if you can find people who are interested in working up here and are qualified for a position, it’s tremendously difficult to get them up here and get them into a place where they can live. And so, you know, that challenge has caused us to start thinking a little bit about what our workforce might look like in the future.”

Remote work has the ability to help the county address that problem, Joerke said.

“It also has the benefit of reducing the need for office space. So there are a number of reasons why we would want to consider expanding our use of remote work,” he said.

Other topics discussed during the interview include a public town hall style meeting April 12 about redistricting and how it will impact the 2022 election in Cook County. That meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the courthouse in Grand Marais.

Listen to the audio below to hear the full interview.