The future of federal work: Flexibility as foundational
February 07, 2022
February 07, 2022
According to the Office of Personnel Management’s December 2021 telework report, 90% of eligible federal workers engaged in telework during fiscal year 2020 – a 34% increase from the previous year. Even with a large percentage of staff working from home and other ‘out-of-office’ locations, the business of government continued. In many cases, employees relished the opportunity to work more conveniently and safely from home without the added time and expense of a commute.
Due to the pandemic, federal agencies are re-thinking traditional office environments – ones that were often biased toward in-person, synchronous work. Leaders are coming to the realization that flexibility is not a phase but a necessity for high-performer retention and overall long-term job satisfaction. The hybrid model will be the “great experiment” of 2022.
Returning to work will require reshaping the very nature of how agencies operate - combining in-person and remote work with a focus on maximizing people’s potential, from anywhere and at any time, over physical location. There should be a clear goal of democratizing access for employees across all five potential hybrid work modalities.
To better understand how all organizations can seize the opportunity of a hybrid office model, Accenture conducted a global study of workers across 10 countries and 10 industries to understand what makes workers productive and healthy working from anywhere.
For federal workers:
Federal workers who had a hybrid work model during COVID-19 had better mental health and stronger work relationships with their organizations compared to peers who worked entirely onsite or remotely.i
For agencies, there’s a staggering economic opportunity associated with flexible work environments. In fiscal year 2020, multiple agencies cited significant cost savings derived from allowing employees to telework:
To put the opportunity into perspective, the federal government rents at least 187 million square feet of office space, which cost $5.7 billion to rent as of June 2020.
Unpacking what incentivizes the federal worker to want to be in-person versus remote can help agencies create a hybrid work model that maximizes employees’ time and productivity, while keeping them engaged and satisfied.
Percentage who strongly agree.
Routine: Benefit from the routine that going onsite creates
Technology: Easier access to technology onsite than at home
Non-traditional space: Need non-traditional space to ideate and innovate
Visibility: Improved visibility to leaders
Colleagues: Opportunity to collaborate with colleagues in face-to-face settings
Percentage who strongly agree.
Safety: Remote work makes me feel safer
Quality of life: I have a better quality of life working remotely
Freedom: Remote work gives me the freedom to take more productive breaks from work when I need to
Technology: I have the tools and technologies to effectively work remotely
Workspace: I have sufficient work-from-home space
The next 12-18 months will be critical to the hybrid work story. There isn’t one solution, and the “best approach” is yet to be conceived. To create a robust, sustainable, and supportive hybrid work culture, agencies should begin by:
Quick fixes that focus on getting through this “rough patch” are near-sighted. Instead, incremental changes to the overall operating model can make a big difference. The future of work will rely on transforming the organization for agility and sustainability.
To help on that journey, we’ve identified three priority areas to help government leaders get started:
Communicate the future: Ensure you have a robust, company-wide communication strategy in place to share new updates, protocols, and any other necessary messages regarding the shift to a hybrid work model.
These messages should be clear, frequent, and transparent. Communicate the facts – what you know and don’t know – as well as where you’d like the agency to go, together. The strategy should be focused on clarifying what is happening today, while engaging the entire workforce in designing what the model will look like in the future.
Re-imagine how you work in-person: A hybrid work model gives organizations the opportunity to rethink the structure and purpose of onsite space. Leaders should consider:
For example, our data above indicates that workers are encouraged to return to the office when there’s the opportunity to work in a non-traditional space, that is conducive to both individual and team innovation and ideation.
The traditional office environment may then require a makeover to provide more focused spaces for collaboration and innovation; individual desk space can be decreased. The government has been evaluating its real estate footprint already, and developments like government co-working spaces already indicate a new future for federal office space.
Focus on increasing digital fluency: A hybrid work model puts greater emphasis on ensuring all workers are technologically savvy. This is a win overall – digitally fluent organizations have higher growth and are deemed better places to work, according to Accenture research. The same study found that an organization’s digital fluency is largely influenced by four factors:
Agencies should emphasize growing their digital fluency across this framework. Doing so can help provide more flexibility to employees who may be returning to the office simply for easier access to technology, for example.
Important within this equation is the fact that workers will have different skill levels when it comes to technology. Onboarding and training processes, as well as the organization’s IT service management ecosystem, must be set up to robustly support a spectrum of needs from anywhere, at any time – from those who are largely self-sufficient and don’t want to undergo unnecessary technology onboarding and/or training, to those who may need in-depth, one-on-one technology upskilling.
Hybrid work is an opportunity for agencies to capitalize on, not a nuisance to be accommodated. COVID-19 changed how people want to work – likely forever. It peeled back the corporate curtain to reveal that mandated, in-person work isn’t the most sustainable, productive, or even most logical way of working – something that many employees have known for a long time but have not been empowered to voice. Through a carefully considered hybrid work model, agencies can further equip federal workers to do their best work and deliver on their missions, from anywhere and at any time.
Accenture Research fielded this survey to 9,326 global workers. Respondents included 200 U.S. federal government workers.
i124 federal workers identified their current work model as hybrid (62%). They had higher mental health and stronger work relationships than fully onsite and fully remote, both being statistically significant.