Federal agencies return to work with telework
The federal government, as the nation’s largest employer, faced a significant challenge to protect the health and safety of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like private sector employers, the federal government’s immediate response included a dramatic shift to telecommuting. In partnership with state, local, tribal, and territorial governments and the private sector, the federal government is accelerating government operations where possible based on local conditions and in accordance with the President’s directives to reopen America.
As federal agencies increase the hours that public-facing offices are open for appointments and in-person services, they must ensure adherence to the safety principles of the Safer Federal Workforce Model and recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding community levels measuring the impact of COVID-19 disease on health and health care systems, as well as consulting other applicable guidance.
Additionally, as agencies demonstrated their ability to effectively conduct agency assignments during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, they can now strategically shift to a hybrid work environment by leveraging telecommuting and remote working. (which are separate agreements within the federal government, as explained below) to better address human capital needs and improve mission execution in the future.
Agency workplace safety plans for COVID-19
Applicable legal framework
Reopening a workplace after a public health emergency involves laws and guidance from many government agencies and authorities. Specifically, federal agencies returning to the office should stay current with CDC recommendations and specific Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) COVID-19 guidelines (non-binding). At the same time, they must guarantee use free from recognized risks that could lead to death or serious physical injury. Agencies must also comply with the guidelines of the Office of Personnel Management and the laws it administers for covered employees. Finally, agencies should consider the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines related to COVID-19, the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and other US laws. EEO.
What workplace safety protocols should agencies implement?
When implementing occupational health and safety protocols, federal agencies should:
- Go to facility preparation
- Clean and disinfect the workplace
- Ensure compliance with Safer Federal Workforce guidelines on vaccinations
- Review and update the agency’s COVID-19 testing plan
- Follow CDC protocols for quarantine and isolation
- Adjust masking and screening protocols, if necessary
- Review and evaluate agency facility visit procedures and alternative procedures if necessary
(See, Federal sector employees (return to physical workplace checklist).
Reinventing the return of federal agencies to power
Agencies can deploy personnel policies such as telecommuting and remote working effectively and efficiently as strategic management tools to attract, retain and engage talent. These policies help advance agency missions in the context of nationwide workplace changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and respond to long-term workforce trends.
Revisiting Federal Telework Programs
Telecommuting is not a new phenomenon in federal public employment. The use of telecommuting as an alternative way of working within the federal government began in the 1970s. Proclaimed December 9, 2010, identifies the roles, responsibilities and expectations of federal agencies. Although employees and managers may use the terms “telecommuting” or “remote work” interchangeably, these are separate work arrangements within the federal government with different legislative frameworks and policy implications.
In practice, telecommuting is a working arrangement that allows employees to have regular days when they telecommute (work from another location) and regular days when they work at the agency’s workplace. This is very similar to the current trend of “hybrid working” that is happening in many private workplaces. Agencies may permit employees to participate in telecommuting on a routine or ad hoc basis as permitted by law after meeting appropriate collective bargaining obligations. When considering the potential expansion of the agency’s telecommuting program, it is important to note that a strong and well-practiced federal telecommuting program improves employee performance and engagement and supports productivity and mission effectiveness.
Establish a remote work policy
Remote work has become more widely offered by organizations of all sizes over the past couple of years. More than a quarter of U.S. employers are offering remote work arrangements, and this trend continues to grow as private and public organizations reassess the effectiveness of working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Federal agencies returning to the office may consider expanding remote work opportunities as a strategy to fulfill the agency’s mission and attract and retain a talented and skilled workforce. Remote work arrangements can help agencies recruit new employees with hard-to-find skills or retain current employees who are looking to relocate.
However, remote work arrangements require intentional thought and planning as they raise logistical and political issues, including the reassignment of the official workplace impacting salaries and travel costs, which can create some disincentives. for agencies. Based on the policy and financial implications of remote work arrangements, agencies should highlight cost-effectiveness and business benefits to the agency when establishing a remote work policy.
(See, Federal Sector Hybrid Work Checklist).
What are the next steps for federal agencies returning to office?
Agencies should consider leveraging workplace flexibilities, including telecommuting, remote working, and alternative/flexible work hours as tools to help attract, recruit, and retain the best possible workforce . When revising or establishing telecommuting and remote work policies, agencies should specifically consider lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic when engaging in strategic workforce planning. work. Agencies should also remember to incorporate teleworkers into their Continuity of Government Plans (COOPs) to leverage additional employees to respond to critical assignments during a COOP event.
Learn more about the complexities and rules surrounding bringing federal employees back to the physical workplace in this webcast.