The White House is calling on Federal agencies to “aggressively execute” plans for Federal employees to spend more time in the office this fall after years of working from home, according to an email sent Friday by White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients and obtained by MeriTalk.
The email, which was sent to every Cabinet member, instructs Federal agencies to increase the amount of in-person work for their teams beginning in September and October.
“As we look towards the fall, and with the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, your agencies will be implementing increases in the amount of in-person work for your team,” Zients wrote. “This is a priority of the president – and I am looking to each of you to aggressively execute this shift in September and October.”
Zients’s memo did not specify a particular percentage of in-office work that the White House expects agencies to get to, but its tone suggests that the Biden administration is looking for a substantial increase in the amount of in-office work.
“We are returning to in-person work because it is critical to the well-being of our teams and will enable us to deliver better results for the American people,” he continued. “These changes will allow us to harness the benefits of enhanced flexibilities that we experienced during the pandemic, while ensuring we have the in-person time we need to build a strong culture, trust, and interpersonal connections.”
Zients added that the White House has benefitted from working in person the last two years, allowing it “to work more nimbly and effectively as a team.”
He stressed that the Cabinet members’ engagement is “critical” to the success of this effort, encouraging them to consistently communicate with their staff about why this change is important.
Zients added that Jason Miller, the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Evan Ryan, White House cabinet secretary, will continue to support the agencies in their efforts.
“OMB will be gathering data from you on implementation, and we will track and review our progress,” Zients said.
Zients’ email aligns with OMB’s instructions to Federal agencies earlier this year, which called on agencies to increase the amount of meaningful in-person work at Federal offices following the official end of the COVID-19 national emergency in April.
According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report published last month, 17 of the 24 Federal agencies in GAO’s review used an estimated average of 25 percent or less of their headquarters buildings’ capacity during a three-week sample period. The government watchdog noted this underutilized office space costs agencies billions of dollars annually.
Zients hopes to accelerate the Federal government’s return to the office, explaining that the shift to more in-person work will provide increases in morale, teamwork, and productivity.
“I hope that you and your teams find a moment to take a breath, recharge, and spend some time with friends and family as we look to hit the ground running in September,” Zients concluded.