The Government Publishing Office on Thursday announced that it will continue to allow roughly one-third of its workforce to work entirely remotely after the COVID-19 pandemic, which officials said will be a boon to productivity, recruitment and retention.

Officials at the legislative branch agency, which manages the Federal Register, the Congressional Record and govinfo.gov, and prints U.S. passports, said around 500 of its 1,500 employees will have the option to telework full time, part time, or return to the office, pending discussions with their managers. The roughly 1,000 employees who work in the agency’s printing facilities will remain ineligible to work remotely.

“We’ve got everything from the executive team to software developers, finance and human capital folks, and most of those folks can telework at least part of the time, if not most of the time, and if those flexibilities work for them, their business unit manager and supervisor, we really want to give that a shot,” said GPO Director Hugh Halpern. “It’s worked really well so far. I think you’re going to have a range of options, with everything from 100% telework here in D.C. to not coming into the office much at all, to even remote work, so we can have folks who live outside the D.C. area who are still doing work here remotely, and there will be more hybrid options.”

Prior to the pandemic forcing agencies to adopt a maximum telework stature, Halpern said his agency’s remote work policy was essentially perfunctory.

“We had a telework policy when I got to GPO a little over a year and a half ago, and it was a policy that acknowledged that telework sometimes was appropriate, but frankly, we gave it out kind of grudgingly,” he said. “It was a policy just to say that we had one, and not a whole lot more. So we did have some people telework a day a week or a couple times a pay period, but it wasn’t a regular part of how we worked.”

Once the agency started using telework on a daily basis, Halpern said, officials up and down the organizational chart began to understand the benefits: productivity, engagement and morale all increased.

“The one thing you learn is that if something works, you want to do more of that, so we were really focused on that and said, ‘When we’re coming out of this, we want to make these flexibilities permanent,’” he said. “We want to take the parts that, while nobody wants to go through a pandemic again, we want to take the parts that work and incorporate them into the new way of working. It’s really going to be the biggest change for the way GPO works since we started putting information online.”

Dan Mielke, the agency’s chief human capital officer, said that the new policy will be a “gamechanger” for recruitment, in terms of the agency’s ability to compete with the crowded government job market in the Washington, D.C., region and across the country. Mielke said that employees who live outside of the D.C. area will receive locality pay based on where they live, and that GPO will strive to help employees understand the nuances of how moving may affect their pay.

“This allows us to compete in the 48 contiguous states, where people might say, ‘Maybe I want a good government job but don’t want to go to D.C. because of the high housing prices and tough commutes, or maybe don’t want to leave the family and go to D.C.,’” Mielke said. “And if someone has a family emergency and needs to relocate for a couple of years to be with their parents or something like that, that’s something we can look at, and if the position is eligible, that’ll help us retain folks as well.”

The establishment of remote work policies also could be a boon to GPO’s program where they keep federal depositories at libraries across the country, and make it easier to schedule meetings to support customer agencies, particularly in the West.

“For instance, it’s easier for us, with remote work, to have somebody who is supporting libraries in the Southwest who has an expertise in regional publications that you’ll find out there,” Halpern said. “If they’re remotely working out of their house, working in that region and traveling to those libraries, we don’t have to spend the overhead to find space in a federal or commercial office building. These are the kinds of flexible arrangements that enable you to get really good people who can serve GPO as an organization and serve the GPO’s mission in the regions where they reside.”

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