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The federal government, like many public and private organizations, sent employees home at the onset of the Covid pandemic. Now that people are beginning to cautiously return to their offices, the Washington Post reports that policy-makers plan to make many work-from-home government jobs permanently WFH. This major policy shift affects agency cultures, procedures, and job opportunities.

Unpacking the story:

  • “The shift across the government, whose details are still being finalized, comes after the risk-averse federal bureaucracy had fallen behind private companies when it came to embracing telework — a posture driven by a perception that employees would slack off unless they were tethered to their office cubicles.”

The perception that employees are less productive if they’re working at home is a notion that has been thoroughly disproven. Forbes.com cites studies showing 35-45% increases in productivity, with 4.4% output increase.

  • “…the administration is set to release long-awaited guidance to agencies about when and how many federal employees can return to the office — likely in hybrid workplaces that combine in-person and at-home options…”

Some forward-thinking businesses had already established hybrid workplaces prior to the pandemic. Now every private and public organization can benefit from those early-adopters’ experiences: increasing supportive remote-work tech; reducing physical office space; and preserving corporate culture with in-person onboarding, mentoring, and “water cooler moments.”

  • “Some federal workers who now work remotely cannot fully perform their duties, some lawmakers have complained — saying their constituents still cannot get through to a live IRS representative on the phone because a limited number of employees are reporting to the office…There’s also bipartisan concern about thin in-person staffing levels at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, an arm of the National Archives that provides veterans with vital paper records they need to obtain benefits, access to health care and burials at veterans cemeteries.”

In defense of the government agencies, many were not technologically prepared for the sudden shift to remote work. However, there are solid tech solutions for the challenge of in-person short staffing. Secure distributed call systems and database access keep phones fully manned and customers fully served. Imaged documents in a digital database give remote workers the necessary access to agency information on everything from veterans’ personnel records to historical agricultural records.

  • “Despite the challenges, a broad rethinking of the federal workplace to include remote and virtual options brings big positives, economists and personnel experts say, by appealing to younger workers in particular and helping employers expand their talent pool.”

The pandemic workstyle, whether hybrid or 100% remote, has turned out to be beneficial for many private-sector organizations. Employees like the flexibility, and employers like the improved productivity and lower overhead. Government HR offices will have to compete with private-sector recruiters who are including a WFH option as a hiring incentive.

The federal government is a big ship, and it doesn’t change course as fast as some of the more agile private enterprises. Nevertheless, given a little more time and the right technology, the new workstyle can be beneficial for agencies and taxpayers alike.

 

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