As part of his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, President Joe Biden announced that employees of the federal government would “lead the way” in returning to in-person work in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. What does this mean for federal employees working remotely? Are they going back to the world as it existed in early 2020? To a hybrid model? And how will private sector firms–the ones presumably being led by this example–respond?
What Remote Work Has Looked Like in the Federal Government
The first part of an evaluation is to look at the extent remote work existed during these last two years and what the quality of that work was. The Office of Personnel Management conducted a study in December 2021 that showed 90 percent of federal workers did at least some remote work during fiscal year 2020. By way of comparison, that was a one-third increase over 2019, our last pre-pandemic year.
By itself, that 90 percent is notable, but not necessarily remarkable. To be a part of the 90 percent a federal employee need only have worked remote occasionally. That leads us to a separate study done by the General Accounting Office (GAO), which got even more specific. The GAO report, covering 24 major federal agencies, showed that 80 percent of overall work was done remote. It was more common than not for a federal office to have more than 25 percent of its staff working remote on an exclusive basis.
Has the forced experiment with a remote work force been successful? Three different heads of large federal agencies–Office of Management and Budget, Office of Personnel Management, along with the GAO, say that the workforce has demonstrated resiliency in performing their duties. They call for evaluation of employee performance to be based on quality of work, rather than the location in which that work is performed.
Furthermore, there are significant cost savings associated with remote work. Departments that cover transit costs were able shed a considerable part of that financial burden. Utility costs dropped. More employees working remotely created opportunities to reduce office space. These are benefits that the private sector found, and the federal government was no different. The Department of Education, for example, saved over $3 million on transit costs alone.
What Federal Workers Think
All of us enjoy being able to work from home when we can. The commute on the D.C. Beltway can be its own type of misery. That’s to say nothing of the flexibility parents can have with their children. It’s not surprising that 85 percent of federal employees say working from home had benefits for their quality of life.
Federal employees believe the benefits go beyond simple convenience though. Over three-quarters surveyed believe their productivity is better when they work at home. Even higher numbers say they took the extra time they had without the commute to learn new skills. And when it comes to the bottom line of work product, nearly 70 percent of federal employees say there was no difference between working remotely or being in-person.
That’s not to say there weren’t perceived advantages from going into the office. The work environment creates a structure and routine that nearly 40 percent of federal employees said they benefited from. Similar numbers said accessing important technology was easier at the office and almost 30 percent liked being visible to their supervisors.
We don’t know exactly what this brave new world is going to look like, but indications are–both in the government and in the private sector–that going back to the world of 2019 is unlikely, impractical and–at best–not going to make companies and government agencies more efficient. Remote work–at least to some degree appears to be here to stay.
Whether federal employees work at home or in the office, the need for legal representation can still arise. John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law has a team of good lawyers who are experienced in representing federal employees, unions and whistleblowers. If you need help, don’t hesitate to call us today at (202) 759-7780 or contact us online.