Washington D.C. – After a year of maximum telework that successfully protected the health and safety of the federal workforce, two-thirds of frontline federal employees also report an uptick in productivity while working from home, according to a survey of National Treasury Employees Union members.
“First and foremost, telework saved lives. Coronavirus would have devastated the federal workforce even more if agencies hadn’t closed buildings and sent employees home with laptops,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon. “But more than one year into this crisis, we can draw another important conclusion about telework: it works.”
In an NTEU survey, more than 13,800 frontline federal employees from 33 agencies and departments shared their experiences teleworking during the past year. Significantly, 87 percent said they teleworked more often during the pandemic than before, with more than 82 percent teleworking five days per week. About half of respondents said the pandemic was their first time teleworking.
Of those who teleworked, 97 percent agree that it kept them safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This safety issue also extends to their families and their communities. Once the nation’s largest employer allowed tens of thousands of its employees to avoid crowded offices and public transportation, it helped cut down on the transmission of the virus in any number of cities and towns across the country,” Reardon said. “Maximum telework should forever be a go-to strategy during any type of public health emergency, because it allows government services to continue without endangering the employees.”
According to the employee survey, 92 percent called their telework experience “successful.” In terms of their personal productivity while teleworking, 66 percent said it increased and 24 percent said there was no change in productivity levels. About 5 percent said their productivity decreased slightly.
NTEU has a long history of negotiating telework options into employee contracts, and the survey results show that some agencies were better prepared than others to transition to a remote work environment on a mass scale. About 43 percent of the employees said their agency was not fully prepared for maximum telework, but 36 percent said their agency was prepared.
“It was an unprecedented situation and some bumps were to be expected, but now every agency that expanded their telework programs has a proven track record of success that can be replicated in the future,” Reardon said.
The vast majority of federal employees – 94 percent – said they would like the option of teleworking additional days even after the pandemic subsides.
Increasing telework opportunities for federal employees was an NTEU priority even before the pandemic struck and the union will use the success of maximum telework to push for legislation to protect and expand telework at federal agencies, and to broaden negotiated agreements for NTEU-represented employees.
Other than health and safety, federal employees highlighted additional benefits of telework, such as saving time by not commuting (96 percent); saving money by not commuting (89 percent); better work-life balance (84 percent); and reduced stress level (76 percent).
Hundreds of employees expanded their answers even further, citing their ability to get more exercise, eat healthier, avoid public restrooms and dusty workspaces, and have more time to care for family members instead of commuting.
“I can focus more on my work without all the unnecessary distractions in the office,” said one IRS employee in Ohio.
“I had total peace of mind and security knowing I can accomplish more working from home,” said an IRS employee in Pennsylvania.
“It reduced the environmental and climate impacts of commuting,” said an EPA employee in California.
“I saved money by preparing my own meals, no hassles finding and paying for parking, and no colds or flu,” said an IRS employee in California.
“My health has improved, I get to see my kids and am happier, more focused. This means I am a better, more productive employee,” said an IRS employee in Georgia.
“It made me more available. I have not had to take off work as much and I am never late,” said a Treasury Department employee in Georgia.
“I have a hearing disability. I am able to use my speakers to communicate with vendors without disrupting my co-workers. Telework has been a blessing to me in order for me to perform my job to the best of my abilities,” said a Bureau of Fiscal Service employee in West Virginia.
“I feel like I have a life now after work by not having to endure 1.5 hours to commute back home,” said a Securities and Exchange Commission employee in Virginia.
NTEU also represents about 24,000 Customs and Border Protection Officers, agriculture specialists and trade enforcement personnel who have law enforcement duties at the nation’s ports of entry. Telework was not a full-time option for most of them, just like other federal employees who work in health care, law enforcement or other jobs that are not portable.
“Obviously telework is not for every federal employee because there will always be tasks that require a physical presence in the workplace and some people do not want to work from home, but with some effort and resources, we learned that thousands of federal workers who had never before teleworked were able to do so successfully, five days a week, across government,” Reardon said.
About 95 percent of the employees said that telework made things safer for their non-teleworking coworkers because it meant fewer people in the workplace and more room for social distancing.
NTEU represents employees in 34 federal agencies and offices.