By Liz Stark
The Biden administration’s human resources agency expects some federal workers will continue teleworking regularly in the future, as government agencies finalize their offices’ reentry and post reentry plans.
The Office of Personnel Management is encouraging agencies to re-design telework policies based on lessons learned during the pandemic, and believes certain remote working arrangements could be a way to attract and retain top talent.
“In light of the steps agencies undertook at the outset of the pandemic, OPM expects that many more Federal employees will be eligible to telework on a regular basis post-reentry,” the agency wrote in a 38-page guidance document released Friday.
This additional guidance comes as agencies have been formulating their reentry and post reentry plans for employees returning to the workplace. Last month, OPM, the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration issued a memo with reentry guidelines, including protocols for returning to offices and teleworking options. Agencies had to submit their finalized plans to OMB last Monday, and the specific policies will likely vary depending on the agency.
But the spread of the dangerous Delta variant could complicate these efforts. Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that the US is “going in the wrong direction” as the number of Covid-19 cases continues to rise, particularly among unvaccinated Americans.
And just as government agencies are preparing for their employees’ reentry, companies across the US have also been developing protocols for how, and whether, their workers will return to the office. While many Americans expect to return to the office in the coming weeks, the latest Covid surge is forcing some employers to rethink their plans.
Asked if any changes to federal reentry guidance or agencies’ plans are anticipated due to the Delta variant, a senior administration official told CNN that “agencies are working through reentry plans, but we don’t have anything new to share at this time. We will continue to follow the science and listen to doctors and adhere to (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines.”
Additional guidance for agencies
OPM’s additional guidance, released Friday, is intended to “further assist” agencies in implementing their plans, director Kiran Ahuja wrote in a memo. It supplements the previous guidelines issued in early June.
As noted in those guidelines, Ahuja reiterated that agencies can use “telework and remote work effectively and efficiently as strategic management tools for attracting, retaining, and engaging talent to advance agency missions, including in the context of changes in workplaces nationwide as a result of the pandemic and in response to long-term workforce trends.”
The OPM document includes frequently asked questions about telework, remote work and other human resources policies for reentry, as well as a fact sheet with guidance and scenarios about official worksites, pay, travel and other considerations.
The guidance further encourages agencies to reassess telework polices based on the last 15 months and “re-establish them in a way that best meets mission needs (including the agency’s ability to compete for qualified candidates and retain talent).”
OPM also offers several considerations to help agencies plan their post reentry policies including to “make telework determinations based on the functions of the job, and not mere managerial preference” and “to the extent possible, try to align telework programs with employee needs and the business goals of each work unit to avoid a one-size fits all approach to telework participation.”
OPM further acknowledges that this transition may be challenging going forward.
“Many employees will face challenges in transitioning to the post-reentry workplace, and agencies are encouraged to work with employees to address specific circumstances to assist them in returning to a post-reentry footing,” the guidance notes. “For many employees, returning to the office on a regular basis will require a substantial transition in their day-to-day lives.”
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