Federal agencies have been under pressure to return employees to in-person work on a larger scale.
In January, for example, House Republicans introduced legislation that would require federal employees who worked in-person before the COVID-19 pandemic to return to their pre-pandemic work arrangements.
More recently, Congressional Republicans demanded updated telework statistics as well as a report on “any adverse impacts” telework and remote work have had on government agency performance.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has issued guidance directing government agencies to evaluate their current work arrangements and step up in-person work requirements accordingly.
An April memo from the White House called on federal agencies to refresh their work environment plans and policies to “reflect the expectation that agency headquarters and equivalents generally continue to substantially increase meaningful in-person work in federal offices.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently became the first agency to officially respond to that call, announcing that VA employees will be coming back to the office on a more frequent basis; a move that Federal Times has said “could be the first wave in a tsunami of federal workers resuming their pre-pandemic routines—or searching for new jobs.”
In a recent all-staff email, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough notified VA employees that the agency will require employees on telework agreements in the National Capital Region to report for a minimum of five days in the office each pay period, as MeriTalk reported.
While noting that the new arrangement will be implemented in the fall, McDonough said the VA will determine a specific date to implement the change “within the next several weeks,” noting that the agency will provide further guidance to supervisors “in the coming days,” according to MeriTalk.
Walking the Tightrope
More than three years have passed since the coronavirus arrived to upend the way America works. And it’s clear by now that many employees have gotten used to the flexibility that telework affords, and they will seek out employers that offer that flexibility.
For example, a recent Eagle Hill Consulting survey of more than 500 federal, state and local government workers found 45% of respondents saying they would consider looking for a new job should their agency reduce remote and hybrid work flexibility going forward.
That same poll, however, suggests that government workers see the value of spending at least part of their time at the office. For instance, government employees cited more socialization (42%) and improved collaboration (34%) among the benefits of requiring a return to working in person. More than half (54%) said those who work more in the office are more likely to be successful in their roles.
Melissa Jezior, president and CEO of Eagle Hill Consulting, acknowledges that government leaders “are on a tightrope,” saying in a statement that an agency’s approach to finding the right balance between remote and in-person work “must be nuanced.”
McDonough is hopeful that the VA’s new work arrangement can strike that balance.
“This change will allow us to spend more time in the office together, learning from one another and strengthening our culture while preserving flexibility, something on which VA has always led – and will continue to lead,” McDonough wrote, adding that the change does not apply to employees outside of the National Capital Region.
“I understand this change will be difficult, as the change to telework was very difficult in 2020. Working together we will again lead the federal workforce as we address this new challenge.”
05 June 2023
HR News Article