When the federal government significantly increased telework in 2020, it was an emergency management response. It was practical — necessary even. It was simply the thing to do, and though it took a lot of thought about how to move a massive tranche of 2 million federal employees online, there was no doubt it had to be done.
Though, in a way, it had been done before — just on a much smaller, more gradual scale.
Telework goes back to at least the early 2000s under the George W. Bush administration. In fact, one of the annual appropriations bills required five agencies to certify they increased their telework levels before receiving $5 million.
Then in 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Telework Enhancement Act to require every agency to create an eligibility system for work flexibilities, effectively laying the groundwork upon which telework could be built into the workforce.
Then, the pandemic came, and at one point, 90% of eligible federal employees participated in telework. In years past it was far less.
What happens next? No one really knows. Officials in current and past administrations have indicated telework can help better recruit better against the private sector, create efficiencies for certain teams or improve the work environment. But like so many things in government, vague memos and incremental policies make predicting the future of telework difficult, if not impossible.
Lately, Congressional Republicans have been quick to urge a “return to work,” a phrase which employees have said is dismissive of the fact that their work never stopped. Unions have assured members that any negotiated agreements will remain in place. And meanwhile, remote positions are still being posted on USAJobs.com, leaving some to wonder what will become of those.
All the while, the telework debate has absorbed a number of sub-issues relating to the attractiveness of federal jobs, the environmental footprint of keeping lights on in offices and the economic impact of quieter commuter cities. In the middle of all of that, employees will remind us, are the workers; and not just the 1 million that are telework eligible. The remainder is grappling with whatever deleterious impact telework rollbacks might have on attrition, recruiting and labor relationships.
So, the question becomes: what will that impact be, and do employees feel like they have a real say in the matter? Absent a crystal ball, this is the question Federal Times is asking in our reader survey on the future of federal work.
We want to know how telework decisions affect you and the relationship you have with your public service career.
Federal Times will aim to publish the results in a few weeks.
Editor’s note: This is not a scientific survey. The poll is anonymous, though respondents have the option to share their contact email exclusively with reporters at Federal Times. Personal information will not be published or shared.
*If the survey does not load, click this link.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.