Return-to-office review: Employees call for flexibility, while legislation lags

With the federal return-to-office conversation always in flux, Federal News Network wants to keep you up-to-date on what it all means for federal employees.

Editor’s Note: Want to learn more? Here’s what we know so far about agencies’ return-to-office plans. And here’s a look at all of Federal News Network’s return-to-office coverage.

With federal return-to-office plans already largely implemented, employees are making their voices heard on how the changes are impacting their work — and there is a pretty clear direction those voices are heading toward. At the same time, data from the Congressional Budget Office shows the federal sector is acting more quickly than the private sector for returning employees to the office.

On Capitol Hill, there are no signs of stopping for the debates over how and when to enforce federal return-to-office mandates. In some cases, arguments among lawmakers are slowing down legislative pushes to change telework policies governmentwide.

In an ongoing “return-to-office review” series, Federal News Network is highlighting what workplace changes happened over the last several weeks, keeping you up-to-date on the latest return-to-office news and conversations, and what it all means for federal employees.

Our top return-to-office stories this month

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a long time has relied on remote work for large swaths of its workforce, using it as an effective way to retain public health workers. That was — up until just recently. The CDC is now reining in full-time remote work for many of its employees.
  • The Defense Logistics Agency’s new telework policy may be one of the most prescriptive in all of government. DLA is requiring all employees to work in the office every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The requirements have led to widespread employee dissatisfaction and two formal unfair labor practice allegations.
  • Employee engagement is on the rise, according to the latest Best Places to Work results. It’s hard to point to a single reason causing the tone shift, but one theme was the impact of returning to the office. Employees who telework full-time had the highest satisfaction scores, while employees working in the office scored lower.

By the numbers: Satisfaction in the workplace

In their words: Federal leaders

“We have directives from the Office of Management and Budget and from the White House. But we also need to do our due diligence to make sure that we are collecting the data and telling the story in a quantitative way. Our stakeholders — whether they be on the Hill, or whether they be down on 17th Street in the New Executive Office Building — they need to understand that these decisions are being made because we’re capitulating to the workforce, if this is the direction the workforce is going. And we really need to keep up because I don’t want to lose people.”

Traci DiMartini, human capital officer, IRS

“For many, many years prior to the pandemic, the federal government was able to have people that could spend some of their time working in an alternative location … These are the issues that we are all wrestling with today — is how the intersection of the work arrangements that are in place now measure up to our footprint.”

Rob Shriver, acting director, Office of Personnel Management

“When people feel connected to other people in the workplace, that actually positively impacts their creativity, their productivity, and ultimately contributes to their engagement and retention. Creating opportunities for people to come back in person periodically, creating more intentional opportunities for people to be able to connect and learn about one another virtually, those become increasingly important when you’re in a hybrid work environment.”

Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General

Returning to the office: Federal vs. private sector

Graph of federal versus private sector return to office numbers
Image and data source: Congressional Budget Office

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