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Nonprofit View: How remote working can boost our economy

The growing acceptance of social distancing as an effective public health tool is an opportunity to cast a light on one of the major contributing factors to the spread of illness, and that is “presenteeism.” The term presenteeism is used among Human Resources professionals to describe the act of showing up to work sick, which gets co-workers sick and reduces the overall productivity of a company. It’s a cultural phenomenon that I believe is the result of policies and expectations set by governments, schools and employers to discourage absenteeism and to reward perfect attendance. But perfect attendance is not a measure of good health.

As executive director of MAGIC (Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory), it is my responsibility to help drive economic development in the City of Westminster and promote our gigabit fiber infrastructure, and it’s my experience in disease surveillance as the founding CEO of Sickweather that I’ve learned that what’s good for public health and what’s good for our economy are not mutually exclusive. Now, many of you are probably frustrated with remote working as it was thrust upon us to comply with stay-at-home orders, but it can be the antidote to presenteeism if integrated into our lives correctly with tax credits, relocation grants, and incentives.

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Some examples of this are Tulsa Remote and the Colorado Mutual Prosperity Program. The City of Tulsa, Oklahoma partnered with local community foundations to offer a comprehensive suite of incentives for remote employees to move to Tulsa and receive relocation grants and reimbursements for memberships to their local coworking facilities. And in Colorado, if an employer opens or relocates offices to that state, they can receive tax credits for hiring workers in rural areas if they allow them to work from home at least three days a week. Both programs have been expanded due to their success.

Employers can also offer perks and incentives, whether that be flex hours for employees to work from home, health benefits that include the use of telemedicine services, or reimbursements for coworking memberships, so that employees who would otherwise need to commute over an hour to work could instead work from a secure nearby facility in a professional atmosphere that is socially minimized and isolated from the population of a single large employer.

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The City of Westminster is uniquely positioned to attract employers with effective remote working given our large commuter workforce and our investments in gigabit fiber internet which enables high speed internet access at home, at cafes and hotspots on Main Street, or at our new coworking facility called CoGarage. However, it will require a more coordinated effort with the State of Maryland and our county commissioners to offer comprehensive remote working incentives to workers and employers beyond COVID-19. These incentives will play a critical role not only in our long term economic goals, but also in “flattening the curve” of a pandemic. Let us send a signal to employers and remote workers that Maryland is truly open for business in a post-Coronavirus world.

Graham Dodge is executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory.

Each Monday, the Carroll County Times publishes a column from a local nonprofit, allowing them to share information about their organization and the issues facing it, as our editorial. To be considered, email cctnews@carrollcountytimes.com with the subject line “Nonprofit View.”

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