OPM's fiscal 2022 telework report found that employees that teleworked at least three days a week scored their engagement at 77.1 out of 100.

OPM's fiscal 2022 telework report found that employees that teleworked at least three days a week scored their engagement at 77.1 out of 100. LeoPatrizi / Getty Images

OPM’s latest telework report highlights productivity gains

The annual telework report covers fiscal 2022, though officials promised that recent policy changes will improve data collection and analysis moving forward.

Telework at federal agencies continues to fuel better employee engagement and retention while creating cost savings in areas like real estate and energy, the Office of Personnel Management found in its latest report on the workplace flexibility.

Published last month, OPM’s annual report to Congress covers the 2022 fiscal year, which ended in September 2022, meaning it covers a period of time when agencies were developing and beginning implementation of re-entry plans after a two-year period of maximum telework during the COVID-19 pandemic, but before the Biden administration’s concerted push beginning last spring to increase “meaningful in-person work” across government.

In a message accompanying the report, OPM Director Kiran Ahuja acknowledged that the snapshot of telework as represented by the data may not be current, given the shift in the last year toward more in-person work, but she stressed that changes made this year will improve agencies’ data collection and OPM’s analysis going forward.

“With COVID-19 no longer the primary driver in workforce decisions, federal agencies are closely examining the balance of in-person and virtual work to maximize mission delivery—including making increases to meaningful in-person work while also utilizing flexible work arrangements as a strategic tool to enhance organizational performance,” she wrote. “To support this work, OPM has been engaging with agencies to improve the quality of government-wide and agency-specific telework data. OPM anticipates that future reports will reflect these improvements.”

In fiscal 2022, federal agencies reported that 46% of all federal workers participated in some form of telework, a tick down from the 47% reported in fiscal 2021. Meanwhile, the number of employees eligible rose from 50% in fiscal 2021 to 52% the following year. Agencies reported that 87% of telework-eligible employees actually participated in the practice in fiscal 2022, down from 94% the previous year.

OPM found that while the proportion of federal workers teleworking stayed relatively static between fiscal 2021 and 2022, agencies saw improvements in their goals related to mission outcomes. In fiscal 2022, the percentage of agencies meeting these goals increased slightly in regard to employee attitudes, recruitment and retention, agency performance, as well as decreasing agencies’ energy and real estate costs.

Using data gleaned during the 2022 Federal Employee Viewpoints Survey, OPM found that telework improved employees’ engagement and correlated with an increased desire to remain at the agency, rather than seek work elsewhere or retire. Employees teleworking at least three days per pay period scored a 77.1 out of 100 on the survey’s Employee Engagement Index, while those who did not telework that frequently scored only a 58.5. But those who reported that they prefer in-person work and choose not to telework scored nearly as highly as teleworkers, with an Employee Engagement Index score of 73.2.

“In their qualitative responses to the fiscal year 2022 telework data call, agencies reported observing higher levels of work-life balance, increased productivity due to fewer distractions and disruptions, increased performance reflected in annual reviews and improved management practices to ensure accountability and monitor employee performance,” OPM wrote. “These data points are supported by 2022 FEVS data showing that both employees and managers overwhelmingly agreed (more than 84%) that their work unites were producing high-quality work and meeting their customers’ needs.”

Throughout the report, OPM highlighted ways that new data collection procedures, announced last year and integrated into agency HR systems, will provide quicker and more granular data on telework and its impact on the federal workplace, an apparent acknowledgement of congressional Republicans’ increased scrutiny of telework in recent months. Additionally, OPM said it would collaborate with agencies to evaluate telework policies, as well as work closely with other researchers studying the workplace flexibility in government.

“These data trends show that agencies can effectively leverage telework as a strategic management tool,” the report states. “It is important to note however that this data is limited and spans a time period when employees were more likely to utilize frequent telework. In [next year’s report], OPM will seek to better understand the relationship between telework, employee productivity and organizational performance and will continue to identify best practices for federal telework.”