Feb 13 2023
Digital Workspace

The Future of Federal Remote Work: Lessons from the NSF and NARA

The National Science Foundation and the National Archives and Records Administration have revised their telework policies in response to pandemic lessons.

The American Federation of Government Employees and the National Science Foundation (NSF) recently signed a new collective bargaining agreement that will expand telework and remote work options in an effort to find new ways to achieve efficiency and work-life balance. AFGE says that the agreement came as a result of lessons learned from lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. More recently, AFGE and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) reached an agreement making all permanent positions eligible for telework.

Where is work headed for federal employees? Lessons from these agreements may reveal the path ahead.

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Flexible Policies for Worker-Friendly Environments

In a statement, AFGE Local 2578 President Ashby Crowder said the organization’s agreement with the NARA is one that “seeks to make the agency more efficient and worker friendly.” In addition to adding telework eligibility for all full-time workers, the two organizations signed a memorandum of understanding that gives full-time NARA employees up to five telework days a week, based on business needs. These measures signal a long-term commitment to remote work beyond pandemic considerations.

AFGE noted in the statement that the pandemic proved NARA employees could do their jobs remotely, and that flexibility should be built into regular practices. AFGE and the NSF came to the same conclusions in their negotiations. In NSF’s agreement, most employees are eligible for up to eight days of telework per pay period, an increase from a maximum of just one day a week.

“Not only can telework help our employees balance their personal commitments, NSF workers in a distributed environment can also help the agency achieve our goals of increasing participation of underrepresented groups and underserved geographical areas across the U.S.,” says Wonzie Gardner, NSF’s chief human capital officer.

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How Agencies are Maintaining the Shift to Hybrid Work

NSF’s new remote work and telework policy may signal a broader shift to hybrid work for federal agencies. The organization’s new program designates core hours (10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. EST) to accommodate hybrid work. Now, the default work schedule for all NSF staff supporting a hybrid workforce is Maxiflex, a flexible schedule that allows employees to vary the number of hours worked on a given workday or week.

“What we found was that by taking care of our people, they took care of us; our data has shown this flexibility has led to increased productivity,” Gardner says.

With NARA’s agreement also increasing the maximum number of remote days available to employees, the agency is better poised to accommodate hybrid work. In its 2022-2026 Strategic Plan, NARA notes that it will modernize business processes to increase opportunities for remote work. More specifically, the agency notes that it needs change management strategies to help implement lasting changes, one being the implementation of hybrid workplaces.

EXPLORE: How can agencies establish zero trust in a hybrid work environment?

A Strategic Approach to Technology Implementation

NSF was uniquely positioned to handle the transition to remote work in 2020 because it invested in teleconferencing tools before the pandemic hit. But what kind of technological infrastructure will be effective for long-term hybrid work? Must-have tools for a hybrid environment include:

  • A suite of digital collaboration tools
  • Portable devices with secure access to resources from anywhere
  • Workplace experience platforms
  • In-office collaboration tools that bridge the gap between in-person and remote workers
  • Digital infrastructure that allows employees to work from anywhere
  • Zero-trust cybersecurity structure

That said, a JLL study points to the idea that tech-enabled solutions for hybrid work environments aren’t one-size-fits-all. Instead, the future of hybrid work hinges on implementing tools and processes tailored to organizations’ specific needs. The study notes that organizations need to take a strategic approach to choosing the right technology, working with employees to determine which tools fit best.

“We manage our distributed workforce the same way as a traditional office environment: by performance,” Gardner says. “The agency is constantly refining and defining performance metrics and how we support our internal and external customers across the NSF enterprise.”

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