For Government Employees, Remote Work Is Here To Stay

For Government Employees, Remote Work Is Here To Stay
Government agencies are doubling down on remote work for the long term, even after COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted.
  • Large firms like Google are backtracking on plans to have workers return to their offices, and are implementing permanent flexible work options.
  • Likewise, government agencies are doubling down on remote work for the long term, even after COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted.
  • Their reasoning is that remote work offers huge savings for taxpayers as well as reduced carbon emissions and greater resiliency, in the case of future emergency office shutdowns.

Last week, Google continued to backtrack on its initially strict plan to have workers return to their offices by this September. 

In December of 2020, Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced to employees that there would be no permanent remote work option and that employees would be expected to live within commuting distance of their assigned office in order to be there three days a week.

The announcement was updated in March 2021 accelerating the return to the office for some employees in April, and that those employees that were interested in working remotely more than 14 days per year past the September 1, 2021 return deadline would have to formally apply to do so. 

Now, Google has relaxed its remote work plan further and announced that it is expected that after September 1st, 20% of its employees will work from home, with another 60% of its employees working in the office a few days each week. 

Companies such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have announced upcoming return to office plans for their employees. On the other end of the spectrum, however, companies including Square, Atlassian, Twitter, and Facebook have announced permanent remote work opportunities for their workforce.

As speculation about the future of remote work continues, there is one major workforce sector that has been largely absent from mainstream news stories — government.

Government commits to long-term telework

Government is not typically looked to as a leader in cutting-edge innovation or fast transformation, but the coronavirus pandemic has opened up conversations about how government employees work and how to implement changes made as a response to the pandemic permanent agency policy.

In California, where a large portion of the state’s 230,000 employees can telework, the state administration recently reiterated its commitment to a long-term telework strategy, even after COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted. 

An April 2021 email from Eraina Ortega, the director of the state’s Human Resources Department, encouraged state department directors to, “think about how we can effectively and fairly manage staff, regardless of where they work.”

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    The reasons outlined for this commitment to permanent telework include the ability to consolidate the state’s commercial office space footprint, providing flexibility to employees that may want to work remotely part-time or full-time, reducing carbon emissions, and boosting resiliency in the case of future emergency office shutdowns.

    “Telework is going to be a permanent part of our work lives going forward. It is up to us to capture the broader, longer-term benefits of integrating telework into the way we do our business,” Ortega says in the letter. 

    It’s not just California looking at expanding its telework opportunities for public sector employees.

    Remote work offers huge savings to taxpayers

    Federal government agencies are taking a similar stance that will ensure that, at least for their workforce of over two million workers, remote work is here to stay. A recent article in Federal Computer Week highlighted how the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is working on creating guidance for how agencies can develop and support remote and telework permanently.

    The personnel office is looking to, “promote a different vision of work in the federal government going forward,” said Rob Shriver, the Associate Director of Employee Services at the Office of Personnel Management.

    Expanding telework opportunities has also been cited as a potential huge savings to taxpayers. A 2020 analysis conducted by Global Workplace Analytics found that the estimated impact of government-wide half-time telework could mean a reduction of $11Billion dollars in costs, $1.7 Billion of which from a reduction in real estate costs.

    One agency that is committed to maintaining remote work in their future is the USDA, as reported by the Federal News Network. A spokesman for the USDA said that the agency will, “embrace workplace flexibilities, to include increased telework, expanded use of virtual and remote duty stations and enhanced work schedule flexibilities. This will allow us to recruit and retain the absolute best talent, which will make USDA an employer of choice. This will be one of our highest management priorities.”

    Tony Reardon, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, agrees that telework is a priority. “Flexible work options such as telework are a smart way to improve morale and boost recruitment and retention by offering family-friendly policies that recognize the changing American workplace,” he said.

    So, regardless of the next announcement from a major private corporation that is calling their employees back to the office or doubling down on remote, the government sector has made its decision. Remote is here to stay.

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