By Michael Rhoads, July 21, 2021

When I was a Rotary foreign exchange student in Argentina, the hardest thing this Yankee with two left feet did was learn the basic step of the tango – an intimate and graceful dance once mastered. The key to dancing the tango well is learning how to communicate to your partner the next step you want to take to avoid stepping on toes – or even worse, tripping over one another altogether.  Just like any novice, I had my fair share of trips and sore toes while learning.

The pandemic forced us to learn new moves and ways of working. Now that we’ve learned how to telework, employees and managers alike are now faced with a new question: How much telework is the right amount?

Return to Work?

This return to work will not be as cut and dry as simply returning to the office and resuming what was once considered “normal.” After successfully teleworking for over 16 months, many employees will want to retain some of the flexibility that telework provides.

Federal agencies are in the phased re-entry period, defined by the Biden Administration for the White House as July 6 – July 23.  FELTG recently hosted a webinar dedicated to getting your agency’s return to work guidance ready, which was due July 19th.

It will be important for you to look at your agency’s guidance when considering an employee’s request for telework. In the meantime, OMB has offered some guidance and recommendations. When dealing with employees who are currently teleworking, OMB recommends flexibility. M-21-25 states the government is: “Open with maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees, pursuant to direction from agency heads.”  When scheduling telework, consider whether in-person work is necessary to “satisfy business operations, team-building, and other needs.” During the transition back to the office, your agency may also authorize telework for those with dependent care obligations.

Some employees are ready to return to the camaraderie and in-person interaction with co-workers. To ease the transition, some agencies have offered voluntary return-to-work as offices allow for increased capacity.

The Way Forward

The working relationship between managers and employees is as intertwined as two tango dancers.  There may be times you trip over one another but remember: Communication is the key.  If that communication is clear, you can avoid stepping on each other’s toes when the telework requests start to come in from employees.

While your agency is still trying to master the new telework dance, FELTG has looked at all the complexities of telework, and how your agency can navigate the changes and requests as employees transition back to the office.

Join us July 26-30 for The Post-Pandemic Federal Workplace: Managing Accountability and EEO Challenges. Our event will cover a broad array of telework challenges:

  • Holding teleworkers and other remote workers accountable for performance and conduct
  • Special telework performance and conduct challenges
  • OPM’s telework flexibilities; telework as reasonable accommodation
  • Agency options when employees refuse to report to the physical workplace

I’ll see you at the next milonga, and remember, we’re all in this together.  [email protected]

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