Feb 25 2021

Hybrid Workplaces May Become the Norm as Agencies Retain Telework

The speedy acceptance of remote work is a sign that modernization remains important to federal employees

In the past year, we’ve all learned the most valuable technology lesson of all: the location of the unmute button.

For those of us whose work is ­office-based, we’ve also discovered that telework isn’t as unwieldy as we once thought. We’ve figured out ways around balky VPNs, slow networks and ­inadequate bandwidth, and for the most part, we’re still getting the job done, nearly a year into this pandemic.

But we also miss the ­intangible benefits of working together physically — the overheard conversation that sparks a project idea, the comment that tips you off to an upcoming personnel change, the ­birthday cakes. It looks as if a combination of the two work styles may become the norm in the federal government. Although just 42 percent of federal employees were eligible to telework before the pandemic — and just 22 percent took advantage of it — many have come to embrace the practice.

Technology Adapts for New Uses

In our story “Virtual Onboarding Kept New Employees Moving into Defense Agencies, DHS,” officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the Air Force describe how team collaboration tools enabled them to work more efficiently and improve communication among workers in different locations.

The General Services Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs are using telework technology to boost other aspects of their work — in particular, recruiting, hiring and onboarding new workers quickly, especially those needed to help with the government’s pandemic response.

Some have adapted new technology acquired for other reasons to assist with remote work; the Air Force Reserve Command was already developing its virtual desktop infrastructure capability to support reservists in short-term positions and found that to be a bonus when remote work began.

Federal workers have been adapting to new technology — and new uses for it — for years, but the speedier tempo of recent change that we’ve seen has brought with it a new flexibility and an increased willingness to try new things (even if it means giving up free birthday cake). The positive reaction to telework is another sign of the importance of modernization in the federal workplace.

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