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Federal Employees Sing Telework’s Praises, Want to Continue After the Pandemic

Survey results show those who have been doing their jobs remotely are happier and feel they are just as productive. 

Federal employees who have been teleworking during the novel coronavirus pandemic are giving their new work arrangement rave reviews. In two recently released surveys many teleworkers said they were as—if not more—productive than they had been in the office, and reported greater engagement and job satisfaction. 

The broader of these surveys—the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey administered by the Office of Personnel Management in the fall of 2020—found that 59% of federal employees teleworked daily at the height of the pandemic, up from just 3% before. Those who used the work arrangement were more likely to be engaged with their jobs, OPM said. Employees who reported that they worked at least three days per week remotely had an employee engagement index of 76 out of 100 on the survey, while those who only teleworked one or two days per week had a 74.8 engagement score, and those ineligible for telework had a 62.5 engagement mark.

“There’s a strong link between telework participation and engagement scores in the research,” said OPM acting Director of Strategy and Innovation Kimberly Wells, in a briefing accompanying the release of the survey results on Monday. “So you’d expect to see teleworkers with higher employee engagement scores than those who aren’t, and it’s the same with satisfaction and health and safety . . . There’s a wealth of research over the last decades that show all kinds of positive effects gained through telework, and I know these discussions are being had across agencies to see how we can capture this boon to performance through engaging more telework.”

Similarly, a recent survey by the National Treasury Employees Union found widespread satisfaction with the arrangement. Ninety-two percent of survey respondents said their telework experience was “successful,” the union reported, with nearly 66% saying they were a little or a lot more productive when working remotely and 24% saying their productivity did not change. Just 7% said they were less productive, according to NTEU. 

The most often cited benefit garnered from telework, aside from increased health and safety during the pandemic, was saving time (95.7%) and money (89.1%) through not commuting. This was followed by better work-life balance (84.2%) and reduced stress (75.6%). Other benefits included allowing employees to care for children and dependents whose schools and care facilities were closed (54.4%); learning new skills and ways to communicate; and better overall health through exercising more, eating better and avoiding dirty shared workspaces. 

“My health has improved, I get to see my kids and am happier, more focused,” an Internal Revenue Service employee in Georgia responded in a section that allowed union members to elaborate. “This means I am a better, more productive employee.” 

Most respondents to the survey (93.8%) said they would like the option to continue teleworking extra days even after the pandemic ends and the union said it would push for that in legislation and collective bargaining agreements. 

“Obviously telework is not for every federal employee because there will always be tasks that require a physical presence in the workplace and some people do not want to work from home, but with some effort and resources, we learned that thousands of federal workers who had never before teleworked were able to do so successfully, five days a week, across government,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon, in a statement accompanying the survey results.  

“It was an unprecedented situation and some bumps were to be expected, but now every agency that expanded their telework programs has a proven track record of success that can be replicated in the future,” he noted.   

NTEU’s survey was conducted the week of April 12 and drew responses from 13,800 union members at 33 agencies and departments. The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey by OPM was administered from September 14 to November 5, 2020 to 1.4 million federal employees, with 624,800 responding. 

Erich Wagner contributed to this report.