Federal employees who moved to either full- or part-time telework during the COVID-19 pandemic reported higher engagement and satisfaction with their jobs than those who could not work remotely, according to results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey released April 26.

The overall employee engagement score for feds who worked three or more days of telework a week was 76 percent compared with only 62.5 percent engagement for those employees who could not telework.

In fact, for intrinsic work experience, supervisor satisfaction, perception of leadership and overall job satisfaction, employees who teleworked frequently reported scores more than 10 points higher than those who could not telework.

Feds who teleworked also had a more than 20 point higher perception of health and safety in the workplace than those who did not.

“It’s really hard to overstate what a sweeping change this has been,” said Kim Wells, manager of OPM Survey Analysis, on a press call.

“Generally, you don’t see such a profound change all at once. And what I mean by profound change is that we’ve gone, for many, many people, to a technology-mediated work environment.”

At the peak of the pandemic, nearly 60 percent of feds were teleworking, up from just 3 percent prior to COVID-19.

Overall, 79 percent of employees who participated in telework reported satisfaction with their agency’s telework program.

More employees also reported that their jobs had been found to be telework-compatible at the peak of the pandemic than before — 24 percent said that they had to be physically present to do their work prior to the pandemic, whereas only 16 percent said the same during the pandemic — indicating a reevaluation across many agencies about which roles truly require in-person performance.

“This idea that some types of work are not really adequate or able to be portable forms of work, I think we have had to reevaluate quite a bit this year, just to be able to help our employees to really support their work,” said Wells.

“Now, is this something we’ll maintain or be able to maintain? I don’t know. These may have been very, very unusual circumstances and not something we can pull off moving forward, but that may have given us the opportunity to rethink what we mean by teleworkable or portable work.”

According to OPM Press Secretary Shelby Wagenseller, the agency is currently looking at updating its policy guidance on telework to reflect the lessons learned during the pandemic.

Overall, 74 percent of FEVS respondents said their agencies made employee safety a top priority, and 73 percent said they trusted their organizations to respond effectively to another emergency.

The largest pandemic problems reported in the survey were access to expanded health resources like COVID tests and timely information about potential infections at the worksite, with 17 percent and 19 percent of respondents reporting, respectively, that those resources were needed but not available to them. Both such issues are much more relevant to employees that must work in the office rather than at home.

The FEVS results on telework line up with findings recently released by the National Treasury Employees Union, which found that over 65 percent of its responding members felt their productivity increased due to telework.

That survey also found employees saw benefits in removing commuting concerns, better balancing work and personal lives, learning new skills, reducing stress and being able to care for family members while teleworking.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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