What remote working successes mean for agencies and their physical footprint

The last year and a half served as a forced experiment on the effectiveness of remote work. The test run turned out to be conclusive.

The positive results mean decisions must be made about how much federal government real estate is really needed, something officials were discussing even before the pandemic.

Remote work offers a great hiring and retention opportunity for agencies large and small.

Take, for example, a little-known Department of Transportation agency headquartered in upstate New York: the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.

“Sometimes when they have to fill positions, they have not been able to do so due to their remoteness,” Philip McNamara, assistant secretary for transportation administration, said at an event at the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) Wednesday. “So give them [a teleworking] option… would allow them to recruit the best talent.

Remote work flexibilities have become a growing attraction for many workers in the public and private sectors, so maintaining the flexibilities allows agencies to remain competitive. Competing with the private sector also means learning from the decisions it takes, but not being late. Increased remote working, powered by technology, offers the opportunity to attract applicants from a larger pool in a more efficient and diverse way.

“We believe that not only is technology making this possible … we also believe that it will either be individuals who choose to work in the federal government or they will choose to work in the private sector,” said Oscar Gonzales, assistant secretary for administration. at the Department of Agriculture. “So I think there is a healthy level of competition that is going to get the federal government to provide its ‘A’ when it recruits qualified and diverse candidates.”

The increase in the number of employees teleworking also means that agency managers will have to adapt their leadership styles to accommodate the new culture of their workforce.

“We want to make sure that we don’t pass up these employees as promotion potential, training opportunities,” McNamara said. “We want to be fair, that just because you, as an employee, are telecommuting three, four or even five days a week that you are in some way putting yourself in danger or in danger for the company. career advancement and career advancement.

The government has also been considering the sustainability and environmental factors of federal real estate for some time. This moment offers the opportunity to have these considerations in a new light.

But on the other hand, as a former head of General Service Administration noted at the NAPA event, agencies that are physically housed in communities have ensured the economic stability and growth of these regions. , so that the reduction in the number of people populating these serious regions, as they already did during the pandemic. The federal government will need to communicate with local leaders if they are to avoid negatively impacting businesses and transit systems when making downsizing decisions.

“I ran our numbers, we have about 555 DOT employees in Kansas City,” McNamara said. “I know it impacts the local economy in Kansas City if they don’t go back to an office.”

The wide range of impacts demands careful assessment and decision-making for federal leaders. which are not easy. But using what has been learned so far and in the future, solutions will have to be etched.

“I think there is still a careful assessment that needs to be done with the excess space that already existed even before COVID. A large majority of federal departments had not had time to take a look at monthly leases, for example, ”Gonzales added. “Take a look at conference rooms, breakout rooms and even offices. So there is good sizing that had to happen before COVID. So I think what we should do is maybe prioritize that level of space and then work backwards. But again, I think it begins and ends, with what the needs of the public are and what are the needs of our employees. “

How the federal government will move forward as the dust settles slowly builds up – but as one DC government official put it: “We’re building the boat while we’re at it.

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