In a report that serves as a sort of time capsule of federal teleworking before the pandemic, OPM has said that the share of employees deemed eligible for it in fiscal 2019 was about the same as in the prior several years while the numbers of those who actually teleworked rose slightly overall but dropped at some agencies.
Says the report, “As OPM continues to analyze the critical role telework played in maintaining federal government operations during the pandemic event, this report provides insight to the status of telework operations in the months that preceded an unprecedented governmentwide maximum telework posture and will serve for a useful point of comparison for the fiscal year 2020 report, which we expect to issue later this year.”
The report, covering a 12-month period ending just before the first cases of the Coronavirus were reported, shows that—after accounting for data reported by several agencies that account for telework differently than most—42 percent of federal employees outside the Postal Service were eligible, the same as the prior year. Of those, 56 percent did actually telework during the year at least situationally, up from 51 percent, and the share who teleworked on a regular basis also rose.
Of the 33 agencies that reported a change in eligibility rates in their workforces compared with 2018, 21 increased but the rest decreased for reasons including changes in eligibility requirements. That was the case at several large agencies, including SSA and Agriculture, that had cut back on telework out of a desire to have more employees at their regular workplaces more often.
As in past similar reports, OPM said agencies saw telework as valuable for reasons including recruitment and retention, potential savings on energy and office space costs, and continuity of operations in an emergency situation—just the type of need that arose when the virus reached pandemic levels early in 2020.
The report cited data from the 2019 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey showing that teleworkers exhibit higher self-reported engagement scores (73 percent versus 64 percent of non-teleworkers), overall job satisfaction (70 percent versus 59 percent), and retention intent (68 percent versus 60 percent). “These percentages have been relatively stable year over year, and although these correlations do not necessarily reflect causal relationships, they support widely accepted theoretical linkages between programs and outcomes,” it said.
Research also “has identified a significant and positive relationship between telework and job performance,” although documenting that impact “may be challenging,” it said. In recent survey of a large part of the DoD civilian workforce, though, 47 percent said that their productivity had increased under maximum telework and another 41 percent said it was the same.
Full data from the 2020 version of that survey have not been released, although data reported by individual agencies generally show increases in employee satisfaction, of which increased levels of telework may have played a part. Partial government-wide numbers included in one of those reports show that at the time the survey was administered last fall, 73 percent of all federal employees outside the Postal Service were teleworking, almost all of them at least once a week.