Veterans Affairs leaders will require employees in Washington, D.C. to spend at least half of their work hours in federal offices starting next month as part of a broader effort to scale down work-from-home arrangements left over from the coronavirus pandemic.
Oct. 8 is when staff in the National Capital Region will be expected to report onsite for at least half of each two-week pay period, VA Secretary Denis McDonough told reporters on Friday. Officials had indicated as far back as May that changes in work-from-home rules were coming.
McDonough said in his initial memo to the workforce four months ago that he strongly believes “increasing in-person engagement will enhance problem-solving, spark even more creativity, and strengthen the connections that make us more productive and successful in our core mission.”
About 20% of the VA’s workforce is considered telework eligible, according to employment data kept by the Office of Personnel Management.
Much of the federal workforce had been working remotely during and after the pandemic, which forced agencies to send workers home in higher numbers, though many had been permitted to telework well before the public health emergency required it.
Over the summer, however, agencies began reexamining their telework policies, assessing which teams may need to be brought back to offices since the national pandemic emergency ended on May 11. Lawmakers, too, have been compelling agency leaders to report on how much of the workforce does their job from home, while some federal offices have opened and remain largely unoccupied.
White House officials also said in an April 13 memo that they expect agencies to “substantially increase meaningful in-person work” at headquarter offices in the coming months.
At the same time, the federal union representing 300,000 VA workers has maintained that telework has been a boon for morale and productivity, despite what some Republican lawmakers have said about remote work being potentially ripe for abuse.
“Whether working on-site or remotely, VA workers have been ‘showing up’ to carry out the VA’s missions,” the American Federation of Government Employees said in a statement on March 27.
For the VA, many frontline health care workers have been working in-person at medical centers throughout the pandemic while others in more administrative tasks have been able to leverage hybrid work options.
The total VA workforce has grown by about 33,000 employees in the last 20 months, an increase of about 8%.
With reporting by Leo Shane III at Military Times.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.