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story.lead_photo.caption Missouri Gov. Mike Parson Photo by News Tribune / News Tribune.

State agencies in Missouri are in various stages of development in their plans for distributed work teams, but baseline expectations have been set by the Governor's Office.

Prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Administration and the Governor's Office began working with state agencies on policies for employees working outside the typical state government office.

These distributed work plans are required to be approved by Gov. Mike Parson before being implemented.

Kelli Jones, communications director for the Governor's Office, said baseline criteria have been established by the Governor's Office for the agencies to apply to their departments.

According to the governor's baseline expectations, training for managers leading distributed teams should incorporate two MOLearning courses: Leading at a Distance and Managing Virtual Teams. Leaders are also expected to complete department-specific training on remote teams.

Team member training has similar requirements, except the two MOLearning Courses are Remote Work Foundations and Building Relationships While Working at Home.

All new distributed employees would be required to start in an office but would become eligible for remote work after completing two professional development sessions with a supervisor, who would also need to be present in-person.

Distributed employees are required to be in an office at least one day each week and have the same responsibilities and standards regardless of whether they are in the office or remote, according to the baseline criteria.

They are also required to attend necessary meetings in-person, including all professional development and department or division management meetings.

While working remotely, employees are expected to have timely communication, with departments setting specific expectations of what's considered timely.

Remote employees also have to keep their out-of-office message and shared calendars up to date, as well as keep video on when in virtual meetings.

The only guidance for performance and accountability measures is that they should be organized for managers to easily monitor, such as through dashboards.

Agency plans must also include details on how the department will determine who is eligible for distributed work, with suitable positions based on the number of professional development sessions completed and the Leadership Academy chart.

Jones said the Governor's Office created their expectations based on commonalities and the best ideas from submitted plans.

The governor's guidance specifically notes that Director's Office team members should remain in-person.

"It's a very small amount of government workers that actually fall into the categories of distributed work," Jones said.

Chris Moreland, communications director for the Office of Administration, said the state's 16 executive departments are in varying levels of development with their distributed work plans.

Each department is responsible for submitting a proposal for what the Office of Administration and Governor's guidance would look like as applied to their workforce.

Some agencies, like the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, haven't yet submitted plans to the Governor's Office for approval.

Jessica Duren, a spokesperson for MDHEWD, said the department hasn't submitted a plan, but senior staff and human resources have been meeting with the Office of Administration and the Governor's Office about creating a plan.

"At this time, we're still evaluating whether or not a distributed teams plan would be right for our department, so we haven't submitted anything at this point," Duren said.

She said a lot of the department's work is project-based and requires collaboration among staff, so there would be value in keeping employees in close proximity.

"The nature of people's work is different and so it may look different for even different teams within the same department," Duren said.

Duren said seeing what gets approved and how it is implemented in other departments could help the department make a decision in the future.

Moreland and Jones said the distributed team policy is unrelated to any COVID-19 concerns.

"I think the narrative right now is a little confusing for some because they've been talking about distributive work for quite some time and then COVID hit, and then we had to send quite a few workers home to work remotely," Jones said. "The distributed plans were never confirmed by the Governor as far as being a permanent type of setup."

Jones said distributed workers were directed to return to the office setting so the state could regroup as nothing had been finalized.

"This is still a work in progress, and no time table has been set," Moreland said.

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