Written by Benjamin Freed
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order on Thursday that will end the extensive work-from-home policy that Commonwealth employees have been working under since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than two years ago.
The order, which Youngkin said in a press release is focused on “innovation and teamwork” will see almost all Virginia government employees back in their offices by July 5, with exceptions granted only to workers who receive special permission from their superiors if they have qualifying health or other reasons.
“After listening to the needs of Virginians, discussing solutions with agency heads across government, and closely monitoring the pandemic, we are excited to welcome our employees in person this summer,” Youngkin’s statement read. . “Heading down a new path that values innovation and teamwork, we are updating Virginia’s work from home policy for the first time in over a decade.”
While many state employees have gradually returned to their in-person settings over the past 12 months, many states continue to maintain a primarily remote posture or have permanently adopted hybrid schedules. Many agencies in New York State, for example, allow their employees to work remotely 50% of the time.
Virginia, however, has fallen behind its neighbors in bringing its workforce back to the office. Neighbors Maryland and Washington, DC both began repopulating their government offices last summer, with DC allowing most employees to work from home for up to two days a week. Down south, most North Carolina state workers have also been back in government buildings since last summer, though many have continued to work remotely at least part-time.
Even with the gradual returns to offices in most states, many have recognized remote working as a permanent feature of government. Surveys released over the past two years by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers have found that many IT managers expect hybrid schedules to remain in effect.
The order of Youngkin, a Republican who won last year’s gubernatorial election in a campaign that has frequently lambasted the COVID-19 policies put in place by his Democratic predecessor, Ralph Northam, will make remote work the rare exception in Richmond, rather than a new normal. Youngkin also acted early in his term to reverse many other pandemic-era policies, including vaccine requirements for state employees and masking rules in public schools.
Under a policy issued by the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management accompanying the new executive order, telework arrangements will only be established on an individual basis. The policy also supersedes any prior telecommuting agreement.
Under the new rules, employees who want to work remotely one day a week must get approval from their agency heads, two-day allowances require the signature of a Cabinet Secretary, while three-day requests or more telecommuting will go through the governor. leader.
Branch leaders will also be responsible for “promoting best practices to demonstrate that the strongest teams are best cultivated and learning is most enhanced in an in-person setting” and “emphasizing and informing employees that the telecommuting is a benefit offered to employees, rather than a Commonwealth obligation.
Equipping Virginia’s workforce for telecommuting during the pandemic was largely the responsibility of the Virginia Information Technologies Agency, which had both equipped employees with devices and dramatically increased tools like firewalls. , VPNs and other remote protocols by a factor of 10, a VITA official told StateScoop in October. 2020.
VITA did not respond to questions Friday about how many of the roughly 100,000 Commonwealth employees are still working remotely.