Federal agencies successfully carried out the sharp increases in how many federal employees teleworked and how often due to the pandemic, making them “better positioned to revisit how they were operating before the pandemic began and leverage lessons learned to integrate telework into their strategic workforce plans,” OPM has said.
The latest annual accounting of telework—traditionally a routine report showing little change year to year—said that starting in the second half of fiscal year 2020, after the pandemic was declared, 50 percent of federal employees were considered eligible to telework, up 11 percentage points from 2019. Of those eligible, 90 percent did so—an increase in that segment of 34 percentage points—meaning that 45 percent of all federal employees teleworked at some time during the year.
Teleworkers “continued to perform their jobs, at the highest level, from locations other than their regular duty station, apart from their managers, supervisors, and colleagues. Telework was a critical component of this success,” director Kiran Ahuja said in her introduction to the report.
“This experience makes clear that, that when implemented correctly, telework can help us deliver on our mission. As we look to the future, OPM is encouraging agencies to strategically leverage workplace flexibilities such as telework to help attract, recruit, and retain the best possible workforce, as well as leverage telework as a way to ensure greater resiliency and emergency preparedness through the Federal government,” she wrote.
The statement was the latest in a series from the Biden administration favoring higher than traditional levels of telework—and of other arrangements such as flexible working schedules–in the long term, although not at as high a level as during the pandemic. The status of those long-term “reentry” plans remains up in the air in many cases in the face of the latest surge in Coronavirus infections, following a delay in planned implementation last fall due to a surge at that time.
The report also took a snapshot of telework in September 2020, at the end of that fiscal year and at a time when telework was near its high point. At that time, 78 percent of those performing routine telework were doing so at least three days per pay period compared with 57 percent for the entire year, and the share of teleworkers who did so only on a situational basis fell by more than half.
The figures vary from results reported last spring of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey conducted in the fall of 2020—when telework rates already had begun to decline from their peak—due to differences in what was asked. In that report, 59 percent said they were teleworking at least three days a week at the time, down from 69 percent at the peak, and only 4 percent said they were prohibited from teleworking even though their job would allow for it, down from 19 percent before the pandemic.