FedSmith Readers Say It’s Still Not Time to Return to In-Office Work

How do FedSmith readers feel about returning to work in their agency offices post-COVID? Our latest survey suggests they are not ready to do so.

The majority of respondents in FedSmith’s latest survey said that they still do not think it is time to stop telecommuting and return to work in agency offices.

71% of our readers said that federal employees who are currently teleworking to avoid COVID should not return to in-person work.

As to why they feel this way, it is a combination of residual fear of catching the virus and also the belief that their work is getting done successfully, thereby making it unnecessary to be in the office.

Safety/Health Concerns of In-Person Work

Responses were largely split with respect to how physically safe respondents felt about returning to work in the office. 41% said they either felt “somewhat unsafe” or “not at all safe,” but 38.8% are either “mostly safe” or “very safe.”

This is a breakdown of the responses:

Very Safe24.7%
Mostly Safe14.1%
Neutral20.1%
Somewhat Unsafe19.6%
Not at All Safe21.4%

When asked if they are worried about catching COVID-19 when returning to work in their offices, the majority of respondents said they were “very concerned” about the possibility:

Very Concerned27.6%
Somewhat Concerned15.6%
Neutral17.5%
Somewhat Unconcerned14.1%
Not at All Concerned25.2%

Again, the responses to this question were split fairly closely. 39.3% were either “somewhat unconcerned” or “not at all concerned” versus 43.2% who were either “somewhat concerned” or “very concerned.”

The responses to the above questions indicate there is still a fair amount of fear surrounding the virus that remains for federal employees about returning to work in their agency offices.

Agency Safety Policies

Respondents generally weren’t highly confident in their agencies’ abilities to bring federal employees back to work safely when the extra telecommuting starts to wind down. When asked if they thought their agencies could bring employees back to the office safely, this is how the results came out:

Very Confident22.5%
Somewhat Confident12.3%
Neutral22.8%
Somewhat Unconfident 20.7%
Not at All Confident21.8%

A clear majority of respondents said that they think extra safety protocols are necessary in agencies before federal employees start returning to in-person work in greater numbers. 73% said they thought extra measures such as additional cleaning or social distancing were necessary, but only 59% said that they thought the extra procedures would actually be in place when federal employees return to work.

Most respondents (68%) said that their agencies have not issued any formal guidance to their employees regarding returning to work in the office. Another 13% were not sure, and 19% said they had received formal guidance.

The COVID Vaccine

How many FedSmith readers have had the COVID vaccine? It turns out most of them are fully vaccinated based on this survey (which had over 2,000 respondents participate).

77% of respondents have had all required doses and 4% have had partial doses.

When asked if federal employees should be required to get the COVID vaccine before returning to in-person work at their agencies, the results were more split. A slight majority (54%) said it should be required.

Telework Was a Success and Can Continue

Based on the responses to our survey, FedSmith readers think that the recent experiment in increased telecommuting among the federal workforce was successful and can continue into the future without compromising their agencies’ missions.

Most respondents (77%) are currently teleworking to avoid COVID-19. 74% of respondents believe that federal employees are more productive when working via telework, and an even greater percentage (82%) said that they think their job duties can be successfully carried out via telework. However, a slightly smaller percentage (77%) agreed that their agencies’ missions can be successfully carried out with the current maximum telework flexibilities that are in place because of the pandemic.

Conclusion

President Biden has proposed making the recent telework experiment permanent for a large portion of the federal workforce. Based on the results of this survey, many FedSmith readers would apparently agree with this proposal and seem to be of the opinion that both their individual job duties and the missions of their agencies could still be carried out successfully. It will be interesting to see if or when this happens and how the process unfolds.

Our thanks to everyone who took the time to share their feedback in our latest survey!

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.