In a recent article from Federal News Network, we find that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has issued new guidance for federal agencies regarding return-to-office and telework policies, emphasizing a balance between increasing in-person work where necessary while maintaining telework flexibility.
Balancing In-Person Work and Telework Flexibility
Agencies are expected to increase “meaningful” in-person work at federal offices, particularly at headquarters. OMB describes meaningful in-office work as “purposeful, well-planned, and optimized for in-person collaboration.” However, they should also continue using flexible policies for work locations and maintain telework arrangements as a recruitment and retention tool.
New Deadlines for Agencies
Agencies have a 30-day deadline to update their “work environment plans” for headquarters. These plans should guide telework and in-office policies. Agencies should also define an agency lead for the plan, implementation methods, and ways to effectively measure and monitor within the next month.
Evaluating Current Work Arrangements
To determine the effectiveness of current work arrangements, agencies can use performance measurements such as time-to-hire, attrition rates, service delivery rates, and overall workplace culture. The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) can also provide valuable insights. Agencies should focus on improving experiences and services that directly impact the public.
Guidance Raises Questions and Debate
The new guidance has received some pushback, as federal unions and agency chief human capital officers were reportedly not involved in creating the OMB memo. Access to telework for frontline employees will remain largely unchanged as the new guidance does not override collective bargaining agreements.
Telework has been a contentious issue for Congress, unions, and agency employees for years. House Republicans have called for returning federal employees to the office, citing backlogs and delays at agencies such as the Social Security Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, and IRS.
Telework: Not One-Size-Fits-All
Democrats have largely opposed the GOP stance on telework, attributing agency backlogs to understaffing and underfunding. They emphasize the importance of telework for federal recruitment and retention. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) supports telework, as a recent survey found the majority of federal employees reported improved productivity while teleworking.
Current Telework Statistics
According to the 2022 FEVS data, approximately 31% of federal employee respondents were working fully in person, 55% were on hybrid work schedules, and 14% were working fully remotely. The Biden administration has supported telework as a way to recruit and retain federal employees. The OMB memo is likely one of many upcoming guidance pieces from the administration as pandemic restrictions continue to ease.