Issue Briefs

Following is guidance from the Biden administration on “reentry” and “post-reentry” to federal offices by employees who have been teleworking mainly, or exclusively, which provides a new level of detail regarding “remote” work, in which employees would not be expected to report regularly to an agency site.


Q. Is there a difference between remote work and telework?

ADVERTISEMENT

A. Yes. For purposes of OPM’s guidance, telework refers to arrangements where the employee is expected to report to work both at an agency worksite and alternative worksite on a regular and recurring basis each pay period. Remote work does not involve an expectation that the employee regularly reports to the agency worksite each pay period. Remote work is an arrangement that an agency, in its discretion, may choose to undertake, if the arrangement is consistent with the agency’s needs and the duties of the given position. A remote work arrangement may be initiated by the agency posting the position as one that will be performed remotely or by an employee requesting the privilege of working remotely. Agencies may determine whether to grant such requests on a case-by-case basis. The remote work agreement must accurately document the employee’s worksite to enable accurate determination of locality pay. Given budget implications, equity considerations, and other factors, agency remote work policies should clearly outline the level of approval required to institute or execute a remote work agreement or position.

OPM will be publishing a Remote Work Guide to further explain the implications, considerations, and strategies for the appropriate use of remote work.

Q. Who has the discretion to authorize an employee to engage in remote work?

A. Under current law, remote work is left to the discretion of agency heads, pursuant to their inherent authority to direct the affairs of their agency. See 5 U.S.C. 301, 302. Agencies should follow the procedures set forth by their human capital offices to consider employee requests for remote work. Note that there may be several cost implications for the agency and for employees who are approved for remote work (e.g., change in locality pay, travel expenses, etc.). Agencies should assess all benefits and costs before approving a remote work arrangement. Given budget implications, equity considerations, and other factors, agency remote work policies should clearly outline the level of approval required to institute or execute a remote work agreement or position.

Q. What policy considerations, budgetary impact, and implications should agencies consider when evaluating employee requests for remote work?

A. An agency should decide, at the outset, whether it will permit remote work. If it does, and believes requests for remote work may recur, it should establish a clear process by which an employee can make a request to work remotely. The agency policy could include requirements to conduct a formal and complete assessment of benefits and costs to determine if the arrangement is cost-effective for the Government and the agency. There are various reasons why an employer might decide to approve remote work, including:

·      As a retention tool to maintain talent or institutional knowledge.

ADVERTISEMENT

·      To acquire the knowledge needed for difficult to hire mission-critical talent or hard to find skillsets.

·      To help the agency achieve cost savings with real estate reductions (e.g., office closure, reduced footprint).

·      To help an employee balance work and family responsibilities (e.g., spouse required to relocate for their employment, parents with children whose schools may not be reopened).

·      To meet the demands of a changing workforce that wishes to have more flexibility.

·      To recruit diverse talent from areas of the country for which Federal employment has traditionally required relocation.

ADVERTISEMENT

Additionally, if the agency contemplates making these opportunities available more than occasionally, the agency should consider establishing policies that make clear the criteria by which remote work arrangements will be evaluated and approved/disapproved to avoid perceptions of favoritism or unfair practices.

See OPM’s Evaluation Guide: Evidence-Based Strategies to Capture the Benefits and Costs of Work-Life Programs to learn more about Agency considerations prior to implementing telework and remote work.

Q. Are there limits on what locations are appropriate for remote work?

A. As there is no obligation to permit remote work at all, the agency may set whatever parameters it wishes as to the locations in which remote work may be performed. As with telework, the agency may establish standards that must be met with respect to equipment and security of agency documents. The location will also have implications for certain location-based pay entitlements (i.e., locality payments, special rate supplements, and non-foreign area cost-of-living allowances) that are based on the location of the employee’s official worksite. Agencies considering remote work arrangements, especially remote work that occurs outside the local commuting area of the agency worksite, must also take into consideration how often the agency will want the employee to physically visit the agency worksite. If the remote worker resides within the local commuting area of the agency worksite, then TDY and relocation benefits will not apply. However, the agency could adopt a policy concerning reimbursement for local travel costs. If an employee’s position of recordist located outside of the local commuting area of the agency worksite, then reimbursement will apply each time the employee needs to travel back to the office in person.

While agencies are not generally required to cover relocation expenses for employee-driven requests to work remotely on a full-time basis, relocation reimbursement may apply if the agency chooses to relocate the employee back to the agency worksite. Agencies are advised to cover this topic in the remote work agreement, especially if the arrangement was initiated at the employee’s request. For example, the agency could specify that relocation will be at the employee’s expense if the relocation is the result of a deterioration in the employee’s performance. These provisions will vary among agencies, according to specific guidance, allowances, and restrictions.

For policy guidance related to travel and relocation benefits, contact GSA.

Q. How do employee preferences and performance factor into approving remote work arrangements?

ADVERTISEMENT

A. Alternative work arrangements require more than simply working offsite, and this is especially true for a remote work arrangement where the employee is rarely, if ever, at the agency worksite. Such alternative work arrangements come with challenges and require new skill sets for the employee unfamiliar with working in dispersed or virtual teams, and for supervisors unfamiliar with managing

dispersed or virtual teams, so not every position or every employee is suited for this arrangement. Agencies may want to consider multiple factors, including individual work style preferences, team dynamics, and job characteristics, when making decisions about whether to permit remote work in particular instances. In addition to any formal evaluations required by their agency, agencies should advise employees in their remote work policies to conduct an honest self-evaluation when determining whether they would benefit from working in an environment where there is reduced in-person or on-site interaction with managers or members of the team. Employees may want to talk to other remote workers to gain information to help decide if remote work is a viable option. When implementing the telework program and any remote work program for the agency, managers should keep in mind that the performance standards for a teleworking employee or remote worker must be the same as performance standards for employees in the same position who do not work from an alternative location. Also, management expectations for performance should be clearly addressed in an employee’s performance plan, regardless of whether the employee is working onsite or at an alternative location. When an employee participates in telework or remote work, expectations related to accountability do not differ by virtue of the alternative arrangement. Following clear and consistent performance management principles and techniques should result in a seamless transition for managers and their employees moving to alternative work arrangements. Federal agencies offer a wide range of resources to assist Federal Agencies in performance management: OPM offers guidance to managers regarding employee performance management.

Telework.gov contains information about performance and results-oriented management approaches under telework or remote work.

Performance Management Plus:
An online course for employees, supervisors and HR professionals that leverages employee and supervisor relationships to reinforce key performance management principles and processes.

Managing in a Virtual Environment:
The first part of this video series focuses on developing a successful telework strategy to ensure program success. The second part demonstrates how effective performance management can lead to organizational success in a virtual environment.

Q. Should agencies provide additional resources to telework or remote work employees such as office equipment, extra monitors, phones, headsets, chairs, and standing desks?

A. If the position was posted as one for which work would be performed remotely, then the agency should provide the incumbent with the equipment needed to effectively perform the duties of the position. If the agency is permitting remote work at the incumbent’s request, the agency has latitude to decide what equipment to offer. Similarly, because participation in telework is voluntary, and initiated at the employee’s request, agency policies may vary as to what is supplied for telework. Of course, agencies should consult with their Chief Information Officers or equivalents about security requirements with respect to information technology, which may determine who should be permitted to acquire such equipment. Where possible, agencies should also outline in their remote work and telework policies the equipment and services the agency will provide and the equipment and services employees will be expected to provide, under various circumstances. These provisions will vary among agencies, according to specific guidance, allowances, and restrictions.

All teleworkers and remote workers must be made aware that any Government items provided to an employee remain the property of the U.S. Government and must be managed and handled in accordance with Government-wide and agency-specific policies and guidance. The general principle is that the Government may not provide items that are used significantly for non-official activity (see GAO B-326021 decision).

Agencies should use agency property and excess property to the greatest extent practicable before acquiring new property (FMR 102-36). Agencies should address in their telework and remote work policies the disposition of Government-provided resources.

ADVERTISEMENT

Telework.gov also describes critical IT, property, and security considerations related to telework.

Q. What, if any, additional training should agencies consider offering to teleworkers and remote workers?

A. The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 requires agencies to ensure that “an interactive telework training program is provided to employees eligible to participate in the telework program of the agency; and all managers of teleworkers…” While OPM offers basic telework training modules for employees and managers on Telework.gov, agencies may also provide their own telework training opportunities that are specific to the needs of their workforce.

Agencies are free to develop their own training requirements for remote work.

Additionally, maintaining strong performance in an alternative location environment requires employees and their supervisors to be well trained not only on their agency’s policies, criteria for eligibility, roles and responsibilities, and expectations for maintaining acceptable performance, but also on the support that is available to help supervisors and their staff develop new ways to collaborate and communicate.

Biden: Vaccination Mandate for Federal Employees ‘Under Consideration’

New ‘Reentry’ Guidance Assumes Higher Rate of Telework; Still Up to Management

OPM Details Considerations for Telework Eligibility, Frequency

TSP Investment Window Not New, and Not Just about Sustainable Funds

House Vote Set on Bill Setting Raise, Funding Many Agencies

2021 Federal Employees Handbook