The Federal workplace looks a lot different today than it did in March 2020, but Federal tech officials say they continue to see the benefits of remote work and hybrid work two years after the COVID-19 pandemic hit and do not have plans to rush back into the office anytime soon.

At a Feb. 22 ATARC panel on returning to the workplace, Mark Loewenstein, the division chief of the Office of Employment Research and Program Development at the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), said BLS is “still full-time telework,” and has found it has allowed more flexibility within the agency.

“The experience we’ve had is good because it’s forced managers to loosen up,” Loewenstein said during the webinar. “If a manager is doing his job right, or her job right, he doesn’t need to see the person. The person doesn’t have to be located 10 feet away from him to know what work he’s doing.”

“You should be evaluating people on what they produce, not on how often you see them,” he added. “My group has admittedly been very flexible, and we’ve sort of pushed the limit at our agency as much as we can. But I think the agency has moved in the direction of being more flexible.”

As for the Department of Interior (DoI), Daniel Stoll, the information systems security officer within the Office of the Chief Information Officer at DoI, said despite many plans to return to the office on multiple occasions, his agency is still at about 95 percent remote work.

“Everybody that doesn’t have to be there is not there, essentially,” Stoll said. However, Stoll noted it can be hard for government agencies to accept that productivity levels remain steady while employees are at home.

“It’s hard for the government to learn how to be flexible and fluid,” Stoll said. “We love to mandate things and this is how we are, and this is our building, and this is where we work. And, I think it’s a very difficult mindset to put yourself into as a government agency, is we have to be flexible, we have to be fluid, we understand what our mission is.”

Thomas Peng, chief information officer, at the Peace Corps, agreed that it can often be difficult for the government to be flexible, so he is focusing on training supervisors to better manage work outcomes.

Peng said supervisors should not only be looking at productivity levels, but also attrition.

“Instead of just measuring productivity, we need to look at a holistic set of metrics that’s going to gauge how we’re doing in this space,” Peng said. “And are we achieving our mission, our team needs, and individual needs.”

“Don’t let a good crisis go to waste,” Peng added. “I think it’s a really exciting time … for the Federal government to actually, not just catch up, but actually maybe even get ahead.”

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