Circumstance, tradition and security require President Joe Biden to work very close to home. Very!
As POTUS, he would like to see many, if not most, teleworking federal civil servants back at the office ASAP. The idea is that many feds could provide better service to customers in-person, instead of via Zoom, phone or email. Equally important, merchants in major federal centers are suffering because money that office workers once spent downtown have disappeared. Some have gone out of business. While most Americans think of metro Washington as the federal center, there are a number of places — Colorado Springs, Norfolk-Virginia Beach and Honolulu to name a few — with a higher percentage of federal workers than the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area that makes up metro Washington. Because of their high percentage of federal workers vs. their local private sector jobs, merchants, landlords, etc., have been harder hit in major but-off-the-radar places like Ogden, Utah; El Paso and San Antonio, Texas; Charleston, South Carolina.; Dayton, Ohio; Jacksonville, Florida; Baltimore; Albuquerque, New Mexico and Tuscon, Arizona. To name just a few.
Metro Washington’s famed rush hour traffic — at times — seems back to pre-pandemic/teleworking days. So it is possible, for a variety of reasons, that at least here teleworkers are being lured (reeled in) back to the office. But in the rest of the nation — some would call it the real world — where 86 of every 100 federal employees live, work, send kids to school and vote, working from home seems here to stay. Last week we asked a select group of feds from all over the nation how things were going? Got some terrific, fascinating answers and reports. Explanations that you and the politicians should hear. We’ll start off with three of the first responses. With more to come. The first to respond was an Agriculture employee whose responsibilities include Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. She writes:
A: Some job descriptions have the option to work two days per pay period. Other job descriptions have the option to do that, or to work remotely from home (no in-office requirements). As an employee who chose the remote option, my official duty station is my home now, not my former office location. Employees can change their selected work option at any point.
I think the pandemic, which was a two-year case study, if you will, demonstrated that our agency could work remotely successfully, meeting all deadlines and publication dates, our mission, etc.
Also this new work model is a work-in-progress and its details regarding how to get the work done are fluid and still being fine-tuned. This will be a dynamic situation, continually modified, refined and made better, as we learn more about how to work effectively and efficiently with many remote employees, and many telework employees who are in the office twice per pay period.
Q: Should people be forced to go back?
A: Well, that is a hard “no” for me. There sure are many ways to look at that question, aren’t there! For me, better to move forward, keeping the good, and finding solutions for the bad. It’s a new day now, not a rehash of the olden days.
Q: Does the taxpayer get more bang for the buck when people can work from home, avoid commuting, etc?
A: I save a ton of money from parking, gasoline, wear-and-tear on auto, work clothes, bought lunches, etc. It’s more efficient in many ways: fewer cars on the road, no commuting time wasted by us workers. I feel kind of bad for businesses who don’t get the worker foot traffic now, like the lunch spots near my former office.
From the Northeast we heard this from a veteran IRS worker with some interesting thoughts about on-site workers:
A perspective from a previous IRS employee.
Prior to COVID, IRS had a pretty good telework policy in which availability was aligned with the type of work. Those who were dealing with paper tax returns or face-to-face client interactions either had no telework or a limited number of days to be off-site, to be arranged with their manager. Others, who had portable work, could request varying number of telework days up to the Office of Personnel Management limit of two days per pay period in office. When one of the offices closed due to consolidation and the next nearest office was far from the employee’s home, there were a few who were on remote work (a.k.a. full-time telework). For those with portable work, this policy addressed those who preferred remote and on-site preferences. Those with only on-site work could strive for a career path moving toward more portable work.
From everything I experienced during 2020 and 2021, those with portable work who were remote had improved productivity, but the backlog for on-site paperwork did grow. I retired at the end of 2021, but I believe IRS has returned to these prior policies.
Personally, I believe only those whose actual tasks require them to be on-site should be forced to go back and perhaps receive some ‘hazard pay/enhanced compensation’ for their exposure and commute hassles. Those with portable work should be enabled to work remote full-time and enable the agency to return RSF (Rentable Square Feet) to the General Services Administration and transit benefits to the Transportation Department with a positive budget impact. With more employees working remotely the agency’s physical risk profile is reduced, snow-day interruptions are reduced, but remote VPN access is increased.
An employee of Navy’s Surface Warfare operation in Dahlgren, Virginia, gave us this update:
Where I work at NSWC Dahlgren, pretty much everyone is back in office, but there is a flexible telework policy for a day or two per week. Which I see as about right for teleworking.
I think that it is a good thing to get back to the office, at least for the work here. It helps with regular relationships and teamwork compared to video meetings/etc., and I also believe better productivity with people able to interact more. As someone who was in the office pretty much every day during the pandemic, I see much more getting accomplished than during that time frame when most people were teleworking, but that may just be due to the nature of our work here.”
Lots more to come with the thoughts, experiences and suggestions from real live feds. Thoughts and a real world view their top political bosses should take into account.
Toyota was originally called “Toyoda” after founder Sakichi Toyoda. The D was later changed a T because the sound is clearer in Japanese, and Toyota requires exactly eight strokes to write in Japanese characters. Eight strokes supposedly signify wealth and good fortune.