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Striking the right balance: Flexible work arrangements in government

By Lindsay Henson

In recent months, there’s been a real push for government employees to return to the workplace. Earlier this year, the federal government received new organizational health guidance calling for a substantial increase in meaningful in-person work. And more recently, The White House called on Cabinet officials to “aggressively execute” plans for federal employees to work more in their offices by this fall in an effort to “build a strong culture, trust, and interpersonal connections” within agencies.

And while employees say there are benefits to returning to the office, it’s also clear remote and hybrid work is valuable. According to our research, 47% of government employees feel more productive, 70% feel more supported by their supervisor, and 75% say they are more committed to quality outcomes compared to two years ago. There’s also an argument to be made that flexible work arrangements can help reduce the chronic government employee burnout problem facing agencies.

At the same time, federal, state, and local governments continue to face unprecedented challenges attracting and keeping employees to deliver essential public services. The number of government employees retiring and quitting is up, with the private sector being a major competitor for the shrinking share of talent.

All of these conditions beg the question: will a push back to pre-pandemic telework levels trigger an exodus of public service workers? In some cases, it very well could.

According to Eagle Hill’s latest poll on the subject, nearly half (45%) of government employees indicated they would consider looking for a new job should their agency reduce remote and hybrid work flexibility. Additionally, 59% of remote and hybrid government workers say their job satisfaction would decrease if their employer mandated a return to in-person work, and 44% say their productivity would decrease with such a requirement. 

But we didn’t stop there. We dug a little deeper to better understand government employee views on what valuable in-person work looks like to them. The results showcase what public service employees value about in-person work:

Just over half of government employees (54%) say those who work more in the office than remotely are more likely to be successful in their jobs.

Eighty-five percent of workers say team building and integrating a new team member is managed better in person, as is managing teams (77%), onboarding (72%), training (72%), kicking off a new project (71%), getting a project back on track (70%), performance discussions (69%), giving and receiving feedback (64%), classified work (61%), and brainstorming (58%).

If required to return to in-person work, government employees say the benefits are more socialization (42%), improved collaboration (34%), and the ability to leave work at the office (33%).

Our research is a clear indicator that in-person work and telework are both valuable – and nuanced. While many government employees have grown comfortable with their hybrid and remote work situations, most still value in-person work—they just need a purpose behind coming into the office. They need to believe the work they have to get done that day is better done in the office rather than remotely, such as navigating conversations with sensitive information, onboarding new employees, or brainstorming with colleagues.  

The key to success is giving government employees purpose and flexibility. This might take the shape of permitting remote work for individualized tasks, rethinking traditional work schedules, and structuring collaborative time in the workplace. Ultimately, agencies that successfully navigate returning to the office and remote work will have a high level of trust between employees and managers, an environment that fosters good communication, and effective processes for managing performance outcomes. The result? A balanced approach that meets evolving employee needs while also meeting – perhaps even exceeding – an agencies’ goals with a highly engaged workforce.