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These Tips Will Help Federal Managers and Employees Navigate the New Hybrid Work Environment

The government’s HR agency said it’s up to everyone to work together to foster effective performance management, particularly when there is a mix of on-site and teleworking feds.

The Office of Personnel Management this week unveiled a series of tip sheets aimed at preparing the federal workforce for the adoption of a hybrid work environment following the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of the government’s response to the pandemic, agencies adopted a “maximum telework” posture, drastically increasing the number of federal workers eligible to work remotely and allowing those who can telework to do so full time. According to data from OPM, 50% of all feds were eligible to telework in fiscal 2020, an 11 percentage point increase over the previous year, and 90% of eligible employees used the workplace flexibility, a 34% increase over 2019.

As agencies prepare to return to traditional work sites, barring another resurgence of the virus like was seen both last fall and winter with the delta and omicron variants, officials have been incorporating expansions of telework from pre-pandemic policies, both in terms of frequency as well as which positions are eligible. But fewer people in a traditional work site at any given time means agencies have to reconfigure their performance management policies to accommodate the new hybrid work environment.

In a memo to agency heads Wednesday, OPM Associate Director for Employee Services Rob Shriver shared a series of tips for employees, managers, and members of agencies’ leadership teams to highlight best practices for managing performance when employees engage in telework or work completely remotely.

“Effective performance management requires engagement and commitment from individuals at all levels of an agency,” Shriver wrote. “As such, these performance management tips have been uniquely tailored to assist non-supervisory employees, supervisors, and leadership throughout the various phases of the performance management cycle. OPM recognizes, however, that for the federal government to be the model employer in the workforce of the future, there must be a renewed focus on employee engagement, learning, development, health and wellbeing.”

The sheets combine best practices for performance management regardless of work environment, like setting clear standards for performance that are transparent and equitable, with tips for how to engage with employees virtually, like suggesting that during video conference meetings, employees and managers use backgrounds and filters to minimize outside noise and distractions.

They also encourage employees and managers to keep an open line of communication, either through one-on-one meetings or instant messaging apps. And the sheet aimed at agency leadership highlights the need to find additional ways to accommodate Q&A sessions with staff, either during town hall meetings and other “office hours”-style events or setting up space on agency intranets for employees to ask questions or provide feedback.

While remote work and telework often allow employees to devote more time to their work because of the elimination of the daily commute, OPM stressed the need for management to foster strong work-life balance across their organization.

“Demonstrating a healthy work/life balance (e.g. not scheduling meetings during lunch, using annual leave, etc.) will empower employees to emulate your positive work/life behaviors—leading to higher productivity and increased employee wellbeing,” OPM wrote to leadership.

OPM also encouraged employees to be proactive in establishing healthy work habits, like setting up intentional breaks to step away from their desk, even if only to do stretching, and encouraging them to get involved in extracurricular groups and make use of employee assistance and mental health programs offered by their agencies.