The list of government agencies stepping up in-office requirements seems to be growing by the day.
Most recently, entities including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management joined the ranks of those requiring employees to be at a shared office on a more frequent basis.
At least one government agency is taking the opposite approach. The U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) recently announced that it’s restructuring its regional customer service teams in order to keep its workforce fully remote, in a move that the agency anticipates will boost customer service while cutting costs.
First implemented in 2021, GPO’s telework and remote work policy “has provided the flexibility required to make these teams more responsive and productive,” according to an agency statement announcing the reorganization.
After conducting a pilot with its Chicago-based customer service team, GPO has opted to reorganize into seven regional teams that are no longer tied to a physical location, meaning that employees can choose to work anywhere in the country. The organization predicts that “not only will GPO’s federal agency customers see enhanced service, but GPO will also save taxpayers nearly $1 million annually by removing the cost of rent and reducing overhead expenses for physical spaces.”
The Productivity Debate
The roughly 1,800-employee GPO produces and distributes information products and services for all three branches of the American government, and is “unlike other federal agencies,” as Federal News Network recently pointed out.
In April, the Biden administration issued a memo directing federal employers to assess their work environment plans and “substantially increase meaningful in-person work at federal offices.” A more recent email from White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients reminded federal agencies that the administration expects them to “aggressively execute” the shift to more in-person work in the coming fall months.
This directive does not apply to GPO. However, “the agency is continuing to measure productivity in its workforce, similar to executive branch agencies,” Federal News Network’s Drew Friedman wrote.
“GPO runs as a business, so our primary measurement of productivity is revenue,” GPO Chief Communications Officer Gary Somerset told Federal News Network. According to Somerset, GPO’s customer services business unit—consisting of employees who either fully telework or work remotely—has seen orders from agencies increase by about 15% in the last year, according to Somerset, who told the outlet that GPO’s telework program has been very successful in its handling of the influx of orders.
Employee productivity has been at the center of the debate over how much federal employees need to be in person to perform their jobs. Introducing The SHOW Up Act in January, for instance, House Republicans claimed “the federal government’s detrimental pandemic-era telework policies for federal bureaucrats” has delayed assistance to veterans, tax refunds, passport applications and other basic services.
Recent data suggests that federal employees take a much different view of how transitioning to telework and remote work models have affected their productivity in the COVID-19 era.
For example, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) polled more than 3,100 government employees earlier this year. More than 70% of respondents said that telework improved productivity at their agency “a great deal.” In total, 97% reported that working remotely throughout the past three-plus years had either improved their agency’s productivity or had no effect on their output.
Moreover, these employees felt that cutting remote work options would hurt retention while actually exacerbating service backlogs. Close to 80% of respondents said that reductions in remote work or telework would make recruiting and retaining employees more difficult, with 74% saying that reducing remote work or telework would have a negative impact on productivity. More than half indicated that customer service would suffer as a result of less telework or remote work, and 50% said that doing so would only make service logjams worse.
GPO Director Hugh Nathanial Halpern seems to share the mindset of these AFGE survey respondents.
“I believe if something is working well for our customers and teammates, we need to do more of it,” Halpern said in a statement. “By vacating physical regional offices, GPO is able to better serve our customers, reduce costs and enhance the work/life balance for our teammates, all by refocusing our customer service teams on meeting our customers where they are, rather than where GPO is.”
06 September 2023
HR News Article