Federal employees can expect a broader embrace of telework and an increase in remote workers going forward, according to Rob Shriver, associate director of employee services at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

As employees start to slowly return to their traditional offices amid improving COVID-19 conditions, Shriver said they will return to a “different type of work environment” than the one that existed in March 2020.

“One thing that’s different is we’re not just going back to how things were in March of 2020, we’re actually looking to leverage the lessons learned from the pandemic to move the Federal workforce forward,” Shriver said at a March 3 Government Executive event.

“There’s going to be a broader embrace of telework,” he continued. “A lot of people who, maybe previously were in jobs that were not thought of being amenable to telework at all, are now going to find that at least on a situational and occasional basis, if not on a regular basis, that telework is an option.”

“Folks who maybe were previously teleworking just occasionally might now have regularly scheduled telework days, and folks that maybe were teleworking once a week might now be teleworking more than that,” he said. “Those are all things that are coming from the experience during the pandemic.”

Shriver said another difference Federal employees can expect is a greater number of workers who don’t regularly come into the office at all – otherwise known as remote workers. Prior to the pandemic, Shriver said, that status was a rarity, or would only be given as an accommodation to someone who was a longtime employee.

“I think where the Federal government is now is looking at remote work from that strategic perspective,” Shriver said. “We need to stay competitive with the private sector to recruit and retain top talent, and we’re not going to be able to do that if we just go back to the way things were prior to the pandemic.”

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“We want to get out of that mindset that remote work or telework is a privilege and it’s only for the top performers,” he added. “It is an important strategic workforce tool. We need to embrace it.”

Shriver said the Federal government needs to leverage its experience from the pandemic and newfound technology skills to “move forward with a workplace that is more flexible [and] does embrace more working from home.”

Many agencies, including OPM, are now revisiting their telework agreements to look at the entire workforce and “consider folks that weren’t previously eligible for telework,” according to Shriver.

As OPM prepares to return to a hybrid work environment, Shriver said his agency will do “a phase transition.” Next week, OPM will bring senior leaders back into the office, followed by the rest of the managers, and then the rest of the workforce will slowly follow.

Nevertheless, Shriver said his agency wants to “set everybody up for success,” and they can expect to return to “a more flexible arrangement.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.