Federal agencies under the Trump administration have not always looked favorably on telework, with many agencies cutting back on the number of hours that an employee can telework in a given week.
But recent Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority renovation plans for several Northern Virginia metro stations — which closed beginning May 25 and will remain out of service until September 2019 — have caused the Office of Personnel Management to release guidance suggesting a more open telework outlook at D.C.-area agencies.
“When making determinations during the Platform Improvement Project regarding the use of telework and other workplace flexibilities, OPM encourages agencies and managers to be thoughtful and creative. Agencies may want to reassess earlier eligibility determinations to consider whether any circumstances have changed (e.g. nature of work, technology) that would impact eligibility, thereby, perhaps, permitting telework at least on a limited basis,” the OPM guidance, issued May 20, reads.
“For employees who may be impacted by the Platform Improvement Project, agencies and managers are encouraged to revisit the question of whether certain portions of the employees’ work are, in fact, consistent with the “portable” types of duties that lend themselves to ad hoc or situational telework.”
The Platform Improvement Project impacts all stations on the blue and yellow lines south of Reagan National Airport, and though WMATA plans to offer shuttle service at those stations, the travel capacity will be significantly limited.
The Departments of Health and Human Services, Education and Agriculture have all proposed or introduced policies in the last couple years that would enable them to cut down on or eliminate telework for certain employees.
Agency officials have called the policies an enhancement of management authority, rather than outright telework reductions, that would give agency managers more flexibility to control when and how telework is used.
But the first OPM Federal Work-Life Survey, released in early 2018, found that federal employees who can take advantage of flexibilities like telework are both more happy with their jobs and more likely to perform at higher levels on their performance appraisals.
“It’s ironic that the same administration trying to gut telework in labor contracts is now relying on it to make sure their Washington-area workforce remains productive and effective this summer,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon in a statement. “Telework and alternative work schedules are not only smart, progressive programs that give employees more flexibility, they are proven to reduce traffic congestion and allow employees to focus more on work and less on their commute.”
Telework policies are at the discretion of individual agencies, so although OPM can offer guidance encouraging expanded telework, it will be up to each agency and its leadership to implement such guidance or not.