Jan 05 2023
Digital Workspace

How Federal Agencies Can Prepare Employees for Permanent Remote Work

Agencies can invest in technological enhancements that keep everyone connected — and safe — as they work remotely for the foreseeable future.

It’s already been more than two years since the pandemic forced a dramatic shift in organizations’ workplace operations, and federal agencies were no exception. The rapid adoption of remote work in 2020 led agencies to permanently change the way they operate, with remote and hybrid working environments now here to stay. Still, private and public organizations continue to try to figure out exactly how to structure their new work environments if some form of remote work is truly permanent. How can agencies make sure they have the bandwidth to handle a dispersed workforce indefinitely?

Government agencies can invest in technological enhancements that keep everyone connected — and safe — as they work remotely for the foreseeable future. They can also update remote work policies to reflect the current landscape. Some federal agencies, such as the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), have already released guidance on remote work best practices for federal agencies, giving other agencies a roadmap to thrive in their new working environments.

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Rethink Your Remote Work Policies and Procedures

At this point, your agency must have some sort of remote work program, given the impact of the pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t improve, especially if policies haven’t changed since the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010. Now that agencies are shifting from the mindset of temporary adjustments to that of permanent remote work, policies and procedures related to offsite operations must be established.

When updating policies to accommodate permanent remote work, it’s vital that agencies clearly define what their agency worksites, alternative worksites and official worksites are. After all, remote work is an alternative work arrangement that involves an employee performing their official duties at an approved alternative worksite away from an agency worksite.

The terms are defined by OPM as follows:

  • Agency worksite: An official federal agency location where work activities are based, generally considered a centralized location of an employee’s assigned organization
  • Alternative worksite: Generally considered an employee’s approved telework site
  • Official worksite: The agency worksite for most employees, including teleworkers. For a remote worker, the official worksite is the alternative worksite to which the agency and the employee agreed, such as the employee’s residence.

To avoid claims of favoritism or unfair or inequitable practices, OPM recommends establishing policies that clarify the criteria by which remote work arrangements will be evaluated and approved. This is vital because approving a remote worksite may affect pay, travel reimbursement and unemployment compensation.

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How Agencies Can Ensure Secure Offsite Operations for Remote Staff

With the additional vulnerabilities that come with remote work, agencies must be prescriptive in their offsite security procedures for employees. Remote work policies should outline any special guidelines that remote workers must follow regarding security and confidentiality of information.

Remote security should include guidance on information systems and technology, along with

aspects of the information systems used by the employee, including paper files, other media, storage devices and telecommunications equipment.

How Agency Networks Should Evolve to Support Environments

Moving to permanent remote work in some capacity requires a long-term commitment to work collaboration tools, such as Teams and Slack. It also requires investment in the latest cybersecurity best practices (such as zero trust) and in infrastructure that allows remote workers to perform as effectively as their on-premises counterparts.

Even a couple of years into remote work, some reports show that organizations remain too careless when managing technology that enables hybrid or remote workplaces. The same report found investments in technology and the introduction of new software solutions and communication channels were hindered by inadequate IT management, unclear responsibilities and too little security training. Remote work calls for new security solutions, and zero trust and DevSecOps are both viable methodologies to handle evolving threats.

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