Little good has come from the delta variant. But it has given businesses and government time to pull a Gordian knot in what returning to work should look like.
No one has figured it out yet.
As Jason Miller, the White House reference man on management, pointed out in an interview yesterday on Federal Drive with Tom Temin, some 40% of federal employees have never teleworked. Air traffic controllers, border patrol officers, letter carriers, letter carriers, laboratory animal handlers, park rangers, these are just a few of the job categories for which the term “telework” makes no sense.
An estimated 59% of Feds switched to full-time telecommuting, or something like that, when the pandemic hit. This is an increase from the 3% who teleworked regularly before the pandemic. Miller said there was no way that number would drop back to 3%, as the pattern of what constitutes normal work habits is itself changing. And quick.
Employees in the Office of Budget and Management and the Office of Personnel Management know that the basic notion of where you work has changed. It’s going to be somewhere between these two poles.
First of all, there is the ‘boomer’ working model – and I note that the baby boomers mainly say it was the old ones before. them who had this model. You’ve been in the office Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for a few decades. You occupied the space allotted to you, whether it was a cubicle or a mahogany veneer desk with a brass lamp issued by the GSA. You did your thing, paid your TSP contributions, paid the mortgage.
I know, I draw with a pack of 8 Crayola. But I make a point.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is Generation Z. You know, kids who think they know everything, and therefore have the right to work when they want, where they want and how they want. While having no qualms about telling you how to manage and set priorities. In the private sector, they expect stock options, profit sharing, cold coffee on pressure and the right to voice their grievances on social media. These are people whose strollers cost more than their grandparents’ first Gremlin.
Admittedly, these are cartoonish extremes. But they show the range of attitudes and styles that agencies have to deal with in one way or another. In reality, people have mixed minds.
People used to office work in the office would like the company of colleagues. But no one wants to travel in obnoxious traffic or on the metro with the wheels falling off. Z’s can say that the workplace is where a person is. Yet they fear being hired somewhere and never actually meet the people they work with.
Agencies have installed the technology they need to deliver credentials and computers to people. Lots of machines order, ask the vendor to image them, and then ship them to people. Agencies have removed practical barriers to remote working. The real problem is how to shape a hybrid and fair working model.
In a panel I hosted for George Mason University, Josh Wilson, senior vice president of LMI, described one possible model. The office, he said, will become a meeting place. He called it the new offsite. Complete with this cold infusion. Employers will want to reduce their real estate but brighten up the remaining gathering spaces. This means that people will normally work remotely, possibly from home.
Another possibility: people choose their telecommuting days, and – what is that word? – “hotel” when they go to the office. With fewer offices than employees, the schedules would need regulatory and strict enforcement. This model has the merit of integrating several desires. People could work more at home. Peak-hour traffic would be permanently alleviated, if only partially. The government could confidently reduce the office space it leases. Government would become a more attractive option for little cats X, Y, and Z.
Whatever form the start of the school year takes, decision-makers need to get started. I mean the Federal Workforce Security Task Force. That’s the motto: “Help ensure that all federal employees, contractors and visitors can work together safely.” This seems like the right group for the job. Most of the group’s work has been improvisation. Updates are almost weekly for agencies and contractors. The deadlines continue to advance. This is understandable.
However, what those associated with the federal workforce now need is a clear picture of the eventual permanent model.
Almost useless factoid
By Alazar Moges
The most popular baby name for a girl in 2020 was Olivia, and for a baby boy it was Liam.
Source: Social security administration