- The U.S. federal government employs more than 4 million people, making it the single largest employer in the world.
- The federal government’s policies on flexible workstyles boil down to a laissez-faire attitude that allows each agency to dictate employee eligibility.
- Despite this, the government has established several coworking contracts designed to provide its employees with flexible workstyles.
The purview of the U.S. government is vast by every measure. Beyond clear laws and regulations that govern business and employment practices, the influence of the government as an employer itself is also substantial.
According to performance.gov — an official government website designed to help the public understand the President’s Management Agenda — more than 4 million Americans are working for the federal government.
If these numbers are accurate, the U.S. government employs more individuals than any company, corporation, or foreign government in existence.
With such a high number of workers, the federal government’s policies around remote and hybrid work have an outsized impact on the future of work and coworking compared to the choices of other corporations. Given this, you’d think the federal government would have clear-cut policies and regulations relating to remote and hybrid workspaces.
Unfortunately, the U.S. government isn’t so easy to understand.
What is the U.S. government’s official position on remote and hybrid workstyles?
Despite the meteoric rise in popularity of remote and hybrid workstyles, exacerbated by the pandemic, the U.S. government’s official stance on remote workstyles is that telework and remote work are not entitlements of employment.
Instead, it’s up to each agency to determine the eligibility of their employees for remote work.
From the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the agencies can’t force anyone to work remotely, but if an employee wants to do so, and is eligible, that individual can enter into a telework agreement or begin working remotely.
Leaving the question of eligibility up to specific agencies results in the government lacking a clear and concise policy on remote work. That said, there are a few agencies that have remote or telework agreements in place for their employees.
Here are some of these agencies:
- Department of Commerce
- Department of Education
- Department of the Interior
- Department of Labor
- Department of State
- Federal Communications Commission
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
- Social Security Administration
The lack of a solid stance on remote work hasn’t stopped countless agencies from allowing the workstyle, but in a labor market that values remote and hybrid workstyles, coworking, and employee-centered businesses, neglecting to create ironclad policies can confuse potential employees.
With divergent practices between agencies, it is largely unsurprising that the U.S. government has continued to oscillate between condemning remote work or incentivizing it.
In 2021, WeWork announced that it had landed a U.S. federal contract to provide access to flexible workspaces for government employees. Awarded by the U.S. General Services Administration to WeWork and four other contractors, the contract was for up to $10 million annually and a period of five years.
“The federal government is the nation’s largest occupier of office space and did not have an established coworking acquisition vehicle until award of this contract,” a release said at the time.
This massive investment in flexible work arrangements implies a level of dedication to flexible work arrangements stronger than the actual policies reflect.
Government experiments with coworking
In addition to the WeWork contract from two years ago, the U.S. government announced earlier this year that the General Services Administration (GSA) will study the impact of a large, hybrid-enabled office for their workers.
A 25,000-square-foot space in Washington, D.C., has been dubbed the Workplace Innovation Lab. According to Nina Albert, the Public Buildings Service Commissioner at the GSA, the hope is to create an office so magnetic that workers want to return to the office.
As Allwork.Space previously reported, the Workplace Innovation Lab will look into various factors of an office, and how each one impacts its occupants. For instance, the GSA will explore just how much office space federal agencies require, an employees’ ideal furniture and design elements and the technology that can help them succeed in their workday.
If it’s successful, the reported plan is to create another.
Considering that the demand for coworking spaces and flexible workstyles continues to grow, perhaps the U.S. federal government will take what it learns to create lasting policies that help guide a coworking-focused future of work.