More than two-thirds of federal employees teleworked during pandemic’s peak

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New data from the Office of Personnel Management’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey confirmed what we all have heard anecdotally: Federal agencies pivoted quickly to support a massive surge in teleworking employees during the peak of the pandemic.

At the pandemic’s peak, 74% of federal workers teleworked at least part of the week, with 59% of respondents saying they did so every day and 10% saying they did three or four days per week. Prior to the pandemic, just 3% of federal workers teleworked on a daily basis, per the data of the 2020 FEVS report, released Monday.

For those who didn’t telework during this time, 16% claimed it was because their job required them to be physically present, like law enforcement officers and other federal security agents.

“The federal workforce is made up of dedicated and hardworking individuals who are motivated by the opportunity to make a positive impact through their public service,” OPM Acting Director Kathleen McGettigan said in a statement. “Despite the unprecedented workplace challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, federal workers adapted quickly to their new realities, continuing to work on behalf of the American people, taking on additional and sometimes new work to ensure critical services have been available to the public.

While the pandemic surely presented the possibility of disruptions, federal employees stayed positive and engaged, with 87% believing they produced high-quality work during the past year. And overall, engagement across the government was up from 68% in 2019 to 72% last year.

“The 2020 survey shows that federal employees were remarkably resilient during a historically difficult year,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “It is important for federal leaders to understand the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the workforce and the opportunities it presents, to listen to employee concerns and reimagine the future of work in the federal government.”

While the topline trends on federal telework appeared mostly good, it wasn’t without challenges. While 72% of employees said they needed and received expanded tech collaboration tools to perform their jobs, 15% said they needed expanded IT support and didn’t get it, and 14% said they didn’t get the training they needed for remote work applications and tools.

The report’s authors conclude that the data can be used to inform future discussions about the planning of the federal workforce, especially now that “changes in management practices and policies in responses to the pandemic have driven widespread speculation about how workplaces might look and function post-pandemic.”

“Sweeping changes to agency designs, for example, have meant a substantial portion of Federal employees have worked in technology-mediated contexts, completely remote from traditional worksites,” the report says. “Such changes have profound implications for management of the workforce, with typical questions centering on performance management. Next steps should include review of OPM FEVS results by decision-makers at all levels to identify how workplace innovations can be retained to foster and support an agile workforce capable of performing despite any external disruptions.

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FEVS, Office of Personnel Management (OPM), telework
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