Departments such as the Michigan State Police, Human Services and Management & Budget have been testing ways over the past several months to increase worker productivity and cut costs. It's part of Gov. Rick Snyder's push for improved efficiency.
The arrangement doesn't make sense for every department or employee, officials said. But for certain jobs, they said it can be an effective way to improve government operations.
"It's an approach that a business would do to be client-friendly," said Human Services spokesman Dave Akerly. "It helps the bottom line, yes, but that's only one part of it. Improving outcomes is more important."
The department's case workers always had to be out in the field, but the new approach gives them the tools they need to be "mobile with a purpose," Akerly said. In July, for example, the department's Delta County office in the Upper Peninsula was the first site to become completely mobile.
"When they have this ability, they can do real social work. It's not just pushing paperwork at a computer," Akerly said.
If state employees that usually work from the road need office space, communal workstations are available in some places including a secure connection to the state's computer system. The state generally saves money by using less physical space, but detailed numbers weren't available.
The mobile workforce concept has the backing of union leaders who represent state workers, but they are keeping an eye on changes.
"We're really supportive of being creative and empowering the state workers to do their jobs ... but we want to make sure our workers aren't shortchanged," said Ray Holman, spokesman for United Auto Workers Local 6000, which is the largest state employees' union with more than 15,000 members.
"We're transforming into a modern era here," Holman said. "These caseworkers need to be in the field; they need to be empowered, not tied to a desk, so we're happy about that."
Holman said the union wants to ensure workers that have the technical support and basic resources they need to do their jobs outside the office.
About 3,000 to 4,000 DHS workers, roughly 30 percent, operate in a mobile environment, the state said. Meanwhile, about 20 technology support workers in the Department of Technology, Management & Budget also generally work outside the office and have communal workstations in Lansing.
These employees work from home four days a week, providing remote tech support to DHS caseworkers. At least one day a week, the workers meet in the office.