Federal employees back in the office could go back to maximum telework under a new bill in the Senate, Federal Times reports. The Pandemic Federal Telework Act would keep as many employees as possible working from home until the Department of Health and Human Services declares the pandemic is over.
The bill is in the same vein as a bill passed by the House on Sept. 30, the Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act, which focuses on ensuring agencies have plans in place for safely returning to the office.
Jonathan Alboum, former Chief Information Officer at the Department of Agriculture, believes the Senate bill indicates we are putting the safety of federal employees first. It also shows a recognition that work does not necessarily have to take place in an office, proven by the government agencies that have been teleworking for the better part of the year.
Alboum said agencies should make sure they have the right tools in place to continue maximum telework for as long as possible, which means having the right networks set up along with robust hardware and software asset management programs. At the same time, agencies should prepare for when employees do come back to the office by thinking about the safety of their workplaces, Alboum pointed out.
Maintaining a robust digital infrastructure as well as a physical infrastructure can be difficult, Alboum said. In the longer term, however, organizations may cut costs by reducing office space, supporting a more hybrid work setup.
COVID-19 has challenged agencies to quickly innovate to optimize processes for a digital environment, Alboum said. “I think, again, we’re recognizing that telework is more than just connectivity into systems. It’s having digitized workflows and digitally transformed processes so the work really can be done anywhere without degradation in performance or … service to the people that rely on our agencies.”
Alboum explained that some of these solutions consist of “the same manual process with some digital add-ons that make it possible to operate during this period of time.” In the long term, we may need to go further by creating fully digitized processes.
“The future’s different in my opinion,” Alboum said. “The future is an optimized, fully digital process that operates on the schedule of the citizen, of the customer of that agency, and not around the schedule of the agency’s operating hours.”
“I think the most important part is making sure that the mission can be delivered under any circumstances,” he said.