Twenty years ago, “teleworking” was a quaint experiment with a handful of employees in a handful of agencies. Many bosses said it would never work. They warned that most out-of-sight employees would sleep late, watch TV, or maybe sell real estate or become day-care providers to supplement their income.
There were serious arguments over who would purchase and maintain equipment for home offices, and liability concerns. Some Defense agencies said that if teleworking was imposed on them by mostly Washington, D.C.-area members of Congress, supervisors would make surprise home visits to see that the office was operating, and that the operator was fully clothed and not entertaining or babysitting.
Technology changed and some of the issues went away. Attitudes changed. Teleworking was growing slowly but surely when the Trump administration — rightly or wrongly — went to war against (or was attacked by) federal unions. Government office space that was rent-free to local union officers was closed. Teleworking programs in many agencies were reduced or eliminated. Time spent working remotely was cut back or stopped altogether.
Then came COVID-19. The world, and especially the working world changed overnight. We’ve had almost two years of remote working and by most indications it has worked. While many agencies are recalling home-bound employees, the possibility of another, even more deadly round of COVID could stall the back-to-the-office movement. Or mean even more people will be working from home using remote sites by winter.
So what’s it been like on the ground? We asked a couple of dozen faithful readers for their thoughts. I asked each of them the same question: What about the office of the future from your standpoint? What if lots of people choose or are allowed to work from home, or remotely — what might this do to their chances of promotion?
Bingo, we got some great replies. All bring a unique, been-there-done-that perspective. And we’ll pass them on to you starting with these two early-responders:
“It really depends what agency you work for. Agencies such as [the General Services Administration] and [the Department of Veterans Affairs] that have quite a few 100% virtual positions and have had them prior to COVID – it’s probably not a big deal to them. But other agencies — yeah, the adjustment to 100% telework or coming in only a few days a pay period will be more difficult to process. During that processing time, if you’re one of the telework-versus-in-office people, will it be a case of out of sight, out of mind when it comes to promotions and such? There isn’t a clear answer to that yet. With advent of Zoom calls and Microsoft Teams, things will get better in this regard as more people adjust to the new technologies available.
“I’m old school, I like being in the office, I like the face-to-face interaction with my coworkers. For me, teleworking 50% gives me the best of both worlds. If I need quiet and peaceful to work on a special project, telework is available. If I need to spread out and work one-on-one with a coworker, the office is better for that.
“The bottom line is if nothing else, COVID has taught the working community, federal or not, flexibility and thinking outside of what has been ‘the norm’ is absolute.” — Dixie
“Hello Mike, after what we have learned from COVID-driven telework and many organizations recognizing productivity improvements, I expect the office of the future will be different physically and via attendance. With many existing staff and many next generation new hires appreciating the benefits of telework, I expect fewer dedicated offices and cubicles with more conference rooms for occasional in-person get togethers to refresh relationships and establish consensus on future plans.
“Where not already established due to COVID, I expect IT departments to expand VPN security for remote connections and probably additional rules and regulations on personally owned devices connecting to networks. I believe that the interconnection tools like text messaging and virtual conferencing have made working from home very similar to in-person activities; especially when those include video, since I can read the skepticism on someone’s expression and ask them to share more.
“While not an absolute when planning space needs, HR and managers may want to look into Myers-Briggs Type indicators to estimate who is most likely to want to be mostly remote versus on-site with the extroverts more likely needing face-time with colleagues. Restaurants and pubs will probably see smaller after-work group get-togethers.
“From a career-promotion standpoint, we may need to check on our boss’ Myers Briggs to evaluate whether face-time ranks high in establishing credibility. Will he or she believe my promise to deliver, if they cannot read my expression? Will he or she be looking at their staffing list or looking for faces when a new opportunity arises? On the other hand, will attrition increase as competitors show more opportunities which do not require relocation?
“There may need to be some adjustments to leadership training for those who have not yet moved to managing by results over managing by walking around. The productivity improvements during COVID remote work were surprises to quite a few.” — G.R. in Philly
The higher up you are the faster you age. Physicists use atomic clocks to calculate how time flows more slowly the closer someone is to Earth, and researchers have found that just a difference of around 1 foot (33 centimeters) causes a measurable change in the passing of time.