In November, when the state was alerted that taxpayers were forking out up to $18 million and more for unoccupied office space, the Governor’s Office made it clear that it had plans to get employees who had been working remotely back into the office to address productivity and customer service.
So, it’s no surprise that state workers who had been logging in from home since the pandemic got orders to report in person by Feb. 2. What is surprising is that some were apparently told to report to a different “office” from the one they left, and “office” was used loosely to describe a basement and an empty building without sufficient furniture or equipment. What happened to those … unused offices? And why were employees told to show up to sites far less conducive to productivity or customer service than logging in from home?
Emma Green, a Public Education Department employee, told the Journal she and colleagues were instructed to report to the basement of a Santa Fe state government building. On Feb. 2, PED employee Barb Armijo shared in an email that the basement of the Willie Ortiz office building in Santa Fe “was certainly NOT ready to be moved into — ventilation is jacked up, no windows, broken desks from the state surplus. … Also, the state has secured offices in Las Cruces and employees were notified yesterday at 3 p.m. that they should report to that office. When they got there, they found no furniture and offices in an empty building that is for sale.”
The state Personnel Office said last month that most workers were already back in person and most of the one-third still working remotely were on a hybrid schedule that included office time. Union officials and state workers have said flexibility is key to attracting and retaining employees, and some will leave because of the in-person mandate. Even with remote work as an option, state agencies had a 24.3% vacancy rate for rank-and-file positions as of September, and those vacancies are not good for productivity or customer service.
We agree taxpayers deserve the best workforce, but echo Armijo when she asks: “Why the urgency … when the state obviously was not ready?”
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.