GAO has said that as part of an assessment of federal agencies’ use of telework during the pandemic, “we plan to obtain federal managers’ perspectives related to telework, including how, if at all, they have changed during the pandemic.”
At a Senate hearing, a GAO witness noted that in a prior assessment of telework, it conducted focus groups at which “we heard examples of how supervisors or managers discouraged telework, such as by not allowing employees to call into staff meetings or limiting the number of telework days allowed.”
She said management support, starting from the top, is “critical” to successful telework. “Managers may resist telework in part because the change requires them to shift from managing by observation to managing by results . . . some managers may not have supported telework because they believed it contributed to poorer performance as compared to the performance of in-office employees,” she said.
The testimony was consistent with findings in reports on telework from OPM and the annual federal employee survey, which consistently cited managerial resistance as a major impediment to telework. Those reports also noted that some employees who were eligible to telework chose not to, for reasons including concern about missing out on opportunities for advancement.
The most recent OPM report, covering a period before the pandemic, found that telework had flattened off, both in terms of numbers of employees deemed eligible and the numbers of days they actually teleworked. Several agencies, most notably the SSA and Agriculture Department, had moved to restrict availability of telework during that period.
Resistance on both sides has been largely a moot point during the pandemic as telework became a necessity for large parts of many agencies but could become a consideration once again in the future.