More than two-thirds of federal employees are still teleworking at least occasionally even as calls for in-person work have pushed agency leaders to reconsider their pandemic-era work policies, according to an annual government-wide survey conducted by the Office of Personnel Management.
About one-third of the 625,568 surveyed by OPM said they do not telework at all, either because of technological limitations, in-office requirements or personal choice. The remainder, about 68%, telework at least occasionally, though most said they telework three to four days per week.
The newest data unveiled Monday mirrors results from last year Federal Employee Viewpoints Survey, which also produced a roughly 30-70 split between those who work full-time onsite and those who retain telework flexibilities. However, in the year since the last data was compiled, the expectation for in-person work to increase has been made clear.
The White House and Congress have said agencies need to be open to reconsidering their maximum telework policies that were in effect during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. While congressional Republicans have taken a harder line against remote work, the Biden administration has said it, too, expects in-person work to increase, though that doesn’t mean every employees must give up working from home.
According to the 2023 results, 17% telework one or two days per week, 14% telework everyday and the rest telework either a few times a month or very infrequently.
Of those who telework daily, two-thirds said they live near their worksite, while 27% do not.
The numbers assist OPM in getting a clearer picture of how dispersed the post-pandemic workforce is, both geographically and in the way that people work. The agency’s three-year data strategy unveiled in March directs agencies’ reports to separate remote workers, who never report to an office, from teleworkers, who work in-person on a regular schedule.
Still, employees and unions have pushed back against mandates to return to offices as a handful of large departments initiated reentry this fall. Their argument has been, and remains, that telework offers a workplace benefit that can be leveraged for recruitment and retention.
Different agencies have also taken different approaches, with some like the Government Accountability Office choosing to preserve flexibilities, and others, like the Department of Transportation, calling people back four days per week beginning next month.
Though not in direct response to those calls, 22% of employees in the survey said that they didn’t feel management makes effective changes to address organizational challenges, and a third said they didn’t feel management involves employees in decisions that affect their work.
Overall, however, employees’ engagement improved one percentage point over 2022, while other sectors have seen that measure decline in the past three years. OPM attributes that, in part, to higher positive responses to perception leadership integrity and feelings of motivation in the workplace.
According to OPM, that small increase is meaningful as “the equivalent of approximately 6,300 respondents, or roughly a medium-sized agency, sharing more positive opinions in this year’s survey.”
- About 41% of respondents said that poor performers tend to remain on the team and continue to underperform.
- When it comes to cybersecurity training — an enterprise goal for many agencies in the years ahead — 83% say they feel prepared to deal with such threats.
- A greater share of employers said they were satisfied with their job (68%) than they are with their pay (57%.)
- The Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility index increased two percentage points this year.
This year, there were also nearly 67,000 more respondents than last year, resulting in a 39% response rate, OPM said.
The survey is given to employees who were onboarded as of November 2022 and includes full-time, part-time, permanent and non-seasonal employees of departments and large agencies, as well as small and independent agencies that accept an invitation to participate.
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.