The Telework Reform Act, introduced by two Senators, has the potential to significantly improve the ability of agencies to recruit and hire qualified candidates for remote work positions. Although there is an emphasis on hiring the spouses of service members and law enforcement officials for remote work (the 2022 Federal Employment Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) study by OPM showed that only 1% of the Federal workforce is the spouse of a current active-duty service member of the U.S. Armed Forces), it would charge Federal agencies with figuring out a range of criteria for supporting remote work more broadly, including on the cost savings and productivity fronts.
In a 2022 report of the findings from a federal study conducted by Qualtrics of more than 1,000 students and recent graduates (Improving early career recruitment for federal jobs, October 2022) according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 85,000 job openings across the federal government, and the public sector has difficulty in attracting top talent and younger workers.
There are many advantages for federal agencies if the Telework Reform Act is passed, but also if agencies transform their telework policies and infrastructure to allow for more remote and hybrid work. Here are a few of the many benefits:
- It can create a larger applicant pool. If agencies offer more remote or hybrid job opportunities, it will make it easier to fill positions in remote locations (especially if these non-competitive appointments are available to spouses) and competitive and hard to fill positions (cyber, AI, and certain roles in law enforcement).
- Allow greater opportunities for military spouses to work remotely. Senator Lankford provides a great example of the benefits of hiring spouses: “The spouse of a Border Patrol agent working in the small town of Eagle Pass, TX might not be able to find a job that fits their education or training but remote work for a Federal agency may be a great opportunity.” (Meritalk Newsletter 10/16/23)
- It’s a great recruiting tool. When an employee is deciding whether or not to relocate, if there is an increased chance of federal employment for their spouse, it may sway their decision to take a position in a less desirable location. It also provides management with more flexibility in reassigning/relocating staff, especially for law enforcement jobs.
- Effectively recruit and retain graduates and young professionals. According to the same Qualtrics study, compared to other attributes such as job security, benefits, and office location, work-life balance and remote work flexibilities had the largest impact on graduate and student decisions on whether to pursue a job in government.
While the bill is still not finalized, and in fact has already been amended by the Senate to require even greater reporting and oversight of offsite work (Fedweek, 11/7/23), it is fair to say that telework is here to stay and will likely grow. However, the level of remote work in the Federal Government is still low – only 14% of respondents to the FEVS study report said they have an approved remote work or teleworking schedule.
Not every potential employee will want or need workplace flexibilities like hybrid or remote work, nor will every federal job be able to support remote work. But when agencies are inflexible in their overarching workplace policies, they hamper their ability to attract and retain the talent needed today and for the future. Federal agencies need greater flexibility, especially in technology, law enforcement and finance roles, in offering remote options where the competition with the private sector for the best talent is significant.
Agency leaders need to take steps now to attract and retain qualified candidates and develop a diverse workforce, including these actions:
- Identify which positions could benefit from being performed remotely.
- Determine the potential value of increasing remote work in hiring and retaining employees.
- Estimate expected cost savings and productivity outcomes from the increased use of remote work and telework.
- Most importantly, partner with industry experts that can help develop workforce plans and policies, and the infrastructure needed for reporting and oversight, enabling agencies to offer more remote and hybrid opportunities and improve their talent pipeline.