NASA leadership told employees and contractors to spend March 6 working from home as part of a test to ensure that the agency’s infrastructure is capable of handling mass telework in the event of a cononavirus outbreak.

“The purpose of this exercise is to test our capabilities, resources and preparedness for large-scale teleworking. I encourage civil servants and onsite contractors who are telework eligible to participate by working from an alternate location Friday,” NASA’s Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk wrote in an email to staff.

“Participation is optional but highly encouraged, provided you have consulted with your supervisor and your offsite work location does not interfere with organizational priorities and critical operations. Onsite contractors should speak with their project manager and, if appropriate, their contracting officer representative (COR) regarding telework eligibility and follow company guidance/policy.”

Though employees that are not eligible for or able to telework will still have to come into the office, the message encourages eligible employees who do not have a current telework agreement in place to still participate in the exercise with their supervisors’ approval.

Employees will also receive an Emergency Notification and Accountability System email while teleworking to test the agency’s emergency communication ability.

While the March 6 test day is not considered mandatory telework for NASA offices, an emergency situation like a coronavirus may result in the agency issuing a mandatory telework order.

“There may be instances in which employee positions are not conducive for teleworking and all employees do not have government issued laptops. NASA will decide if administrative leave will be given in these situations. NASA will need to consider if other types of leave will be allowed or more appropriate,” a FAQ page on the NASA coronavirus information site states.

Employees have also been encouraged to take government-issued laptops and other essentials home with them every day, in case the agency has to move to more frequent telework and employees are not able to access onsite locations.

NASA has required employees to work through its virtual private network, AnyConnect, so the day will also serve as a test of how much activity that network can sustain during mass telework.

Jessie Bur covered the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees for Federal Times.

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