Bipartisan Cooperation is Advancing Federal Telework

A Senate committee advanced legislation which the author says provides a positive framework for telework reform in the federal government.

In an era where political polarization often stymies legislative progress, the recent advancement of the Telework Reform Act (S. 3015) by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee stands as a beacon of hope and common sense.

Spearheaded by Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), this bill represents a noteworthy instance of bipartisan cooperation aimed at modernizing federal work practices to better align with contemporary needs.

The best thing about the bill is that it leaves well enough alone, mostly retaining existing flexible work arrangements, rather than aligning with baseless Republican arguments against telework.

The Telework Reform Act is designed to codify federal workers’ use of remote work into the U.S. Code, providing a clear and standardized framework for telework and remote work across federal agencies. The bill adopts the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) definitions of telework and remote work, distinguishing between employees who need to commute to a traditional worksite at least twice per pay period and those who rarely need to be physically present at federal facilities. This clear delineation helps set expectations for both employees and supervisors, ensuring that remote work arrangements are well-defined and effectively managed.

One of the key provisions of the Telework Reform Act is the requirement for agencies and employees to renew their telework and remote work agreements annually. This renewal process mandates a review of the employees’ duties, performance, and the evolving needs of the agency, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and accountability.

The legislation also introduces robust reporting requirements aimed at providing transparency and insights into the usage and effectiveness of telework. Agencies will conduct biannual surveys to gauge the prevalence and impact of telework and remote work, while the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will perform an annual review of telework guidelines.

The OMB has already put out annual reports finding a multitude of benefits for flexibility. Overall, these assessment measures are designed to identify best practices, address challenges, and ensure that telework policies remain aligned with the goals of efficiency and effectiveness in federal operations.

In a significant move that departs from existing practice – in a good way – the Telework Reform Act grants federal agencies the authority to hire the spouses of military service members and federal law enforcement officers into remote work positions outside the competitive hiring process. This provision to support military and law enforcement families not only recognizes the unique challenges faced by these families but also leverages the potential of a highly skilled and adaptable workforce, thereby enhancing the diversity and capability of the federal workforce.

In another positive departure, by requiring employees to undergo annual telework training, the bill ensures that federal workers are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to thrive in a remote work environment, enhancing productivity and job satisfaction. Having worked as a consultant and trainer for a number of federal agencies in this domain, the lack of training is a serious obstacle, but it’s a serious obstacle for the private sector as well, as discovered by TechSmith Corporation’s 2024 Workplace Flexibility Trends Report.

This comprehensive study, conducted in partnership with Global Workplace Analytics and Caryatid Workplace Consultancy, reveals a significant gap in training and adaptation to flexible work arrangements. Nearly three out of four workers reported that they had not been trained for the shift to flexible work, highlighting a critical area where the Telework Reform Act could make a substantial impact. For instance, the TechSmith’s report shows that many employers have not trained managers to lead distributed teams, established team or meeting norms, or adopted best practices for working across distances.

The committee’s approval of the bill by a decisive 9-2 vote, with no extended discussion, underscores the broad support for the measure. This rare display of bipartisan unity is a testament to the bill’s merits and the pragmatic approach taken by its sponsors.

The passage of the Telework Reform Act could set a precedent for how legislative bodies approach workforce modernization in the future. By codifying flexible work arrangements and establishing clear guidelines and accountability measures, the bill addresses the evolving needs of the federal workforce while maintaining a focus on performance and efficiency.

The broader implications of such a legislative approach extend beyond the federal workforce. As private sector organizations continue to grapple with the challenges and opportunities of remote work, the federal government’s lead in this area could provide valuable insights and benchmarks for best practices. Moreover, by supporting military and law enforcement families, the bill highlights the importance of inclusive and supportive work policies that can enhance employee well-being and retention.

The Telework Reform Act is a commendable example of what can be achieved when lawmakers prioritize common sense solutions over partisan politics. By codifying remote work practices, enhancing accountability, and supporting military and law enforcement families, the bill not only addresses current workforce needs but also lays the groundwork for a more flexible, efficient, and inclusive federal workforce.

As it moves forward in the legislative process, it is imperative that other lawmakers recognize the value of this bipartisan effort and support its enactment. This rare legislative triumph serves as a reminder that, even in divided times, reasonable and impactful legislation is still possible.

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky was named “Office Whisperer” by The New York Times for helping leaders overcome frustrations with hybrid work as the CEO of the future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts, and he wrote the best-seller called “Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams.”